there’s a counter on the right-hand nav bar of my site. a long long time ago, that counter showed how many days I had left until I went on my trip, and I eagerly looked at it each day, slowly with great anticipation, waiting until it reached zero. it finally did, and I set off, flying from san Francisco to London w/ caryn to start our crazy worldwide adventure. my goal was to travel around the world, see as much as I could, and hopefully make this trip last a whole year. I adjusted the counter on my site so that now it would instead show how many days Iâ€™ve been gone. each day, the number grew and grew as the days went by and I continued to see more and more of the world. finally, yesterday, the counter hit 365 days. Iâ€™ve been gone traveling for a whole year now.
I still cant quite believe it… a whole year on the road. in this amount of time, travel has completely consumed my life. I literally eat, breathe, and sleep travel. I donâ€™t think I even know what it is to live a normal life anymore. my sense of time is totally skewed, I never know what date or day of the week it is, and when people tell me about going on a one month trip, in my mind it seems like just a short vacation. I wake up in a new place almost every day since during the last year, Iâ€™ve stayed in 124 different hotels. Iâ€™ve been wearing the same 5 shirts for ages. the only two things constant in my life are caryn and my backpack, a pack that has served me really well over the time, but I still dread having to pack it and unpack it every single damn day.
it seems like the only thing I have to talk to people about is this trip, where Iâ€™ve been, what Iâ€™ve seen, and the rest of the usual traveler rhetoric. Iâ€™m so tired of daily repeating the same things to everyone I see: how long Iâ€™ve been on the road, how much money I saved to do this, which route we are taking. if I hear myself saying “Japan was SO expensive! we spent the same there in 5 weeks as we did elsewhere in 5 *months*!” again, I think I will be ill. in fact, I often worry what it’s going to be like back home… what will I talk to people about? no one wants to hear any more stuff about this trip. the people I know are either reading my blog and have already heard it all before, or they haven’t read the blog and thus probably never wanted to hear about it anyway. yes… this trip has literally consumed my life.
and yet, Iâ€™m so glad that it has. this year has been challenging, more difficult than a normal year on the job, but has been a million times more rewarding. it still boggles my mind, just how much I have seen. Iâ€™ve traveled through 25 different countries on 3 different continents. Iâ€™ve gone from huge uber high-tech cities with concrete jungles bathing in neon glow to tiny villages made up of straw huts next to dusty roads and every kind of town in between. Iâ€™ve gone from sandy deserts filled with large dunes and camels to snow covered mountains where monkeys shiver in the cold. Iâ€™ve dived beneath the water through underwater canyons and sunken ships, and flown through the air looking down on the same ocean. Iâ€™ve strolled leisurely on safe European boulevards, and have gone to places most people are too afraid to visit like Syria in bushâ€™s “axis of evil”. Iâ€™ve seen the wildlife of the ocean like manta rays, and Iâ€™ve seen wild animals on land like lions, tigers, and cheetahs. Iâ€™ve eaten food ranging from spicy Thai dishes, to intricate Japanese delicacies, to much blander African fare. Iâ€™ve learned to say hello, thanks, yes, and no in a bunch of different languages.
I cant even begin to list what sights I have seen. Iâ€™ve seen huge world famous ones that everyone had heard of like the pyramids of Egypt, Eiffel tower in Paris, or the Taj Mahal in India, but Iâ€™ve also seen countless tiny places, ones that are a bit off the beaten track and that not many people know about like a temple completely filled with live rats in India, hidden spirit festivals in Myanmar, and small villages in Russian Siberia. Iâ€™ve been to the religious centers of so many different religions, from the Wailing Wall to the Dome of the Rock, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, to the Dalai Lama’s temple in McLeod Ganj. each country I visited had it’s own interesting places to go, things to see, and activities to do. Iâ€™ve seen places far and wide, and to get there have spent ages on random transport. in the past year, Iâ€™ve taken 31 trains , 52 buses, several vans, all sorts of 3 wheeled rickshaw vehicles, a tractor, a horse, and a camel.
yeah, Iâ€™ve seen a lot of places and things, but what is most fascinating out of all of it for me are the people. the real reason why I travel is not to see landmarks, nor is it even to have adventures. the real reason is because I am incredibly interested in seeing how people live and what people are like in different places. despite the internet, TV, newspapers, etc, staying in one place, you never can *really* get to know how others live. you can read about it all you want, but you never know until you actually go and see them for yourself.
one thing I always think about is stereotypes and preconceptions. most of us, we really know very little about how life works in other countries. we have some views about these places, usually views that are shaped by the media or whatnot, and one of the things that traveling lets you do is break all those old views. when I went to a lot of these places, I didnâ€™t really know what to expect. the only things I knew about Africa were random pieces from books and shows: wild animals, restless natives. my mental image of the place was huge open plains with wandering wildlife and men with spears. heh, ok, of course I didnâ€™t think that all of Africa was like that… but I really didnâ€™t know what else to imagine. what more was there. after coming here, I now have an image of what life is like here. I have seen the wild animals, and Iâ€™ve seen people living in huts wearing almost no clothes, but Iâ€™ve also seen huge cities, thriving businesses, and modern technology. whe3n picturing Ethiopia, all I could conjure up were images of starving children, but now Iâ€™ve seen that this isnâ€™t the case. the same thing with the middle east. would all the women there be covered head to toe in burkhas? would there be terrorists lurking at every corner and bombs blowing up left and right? are there really a lot of camels there? and then I went there and saw for myself: no, most of the women dress as they please, the people are extremely friendly and donâ€™t all hate Americans. but yes, there really are a lot of camels there.
and so I keep going, on and on, from place to places, trying to figure out who these people are and what makes them tick. the tricky thing is, I find that as I travel and get rid of these old stereotypes, I start to see places in a more realistic way, but at the same time, I replace the old stereotypes withy new ones. in a way, what is traveling about other than building up stereotypes? you go to a place, so that you can come back and tell about it. you cant tell about every person that lives there.. instead you generalize. you say that the people from country X were incredibly nice, or the people from country Y were extremely religious, or the people from country Z like to dress in a particular style. after spending just a brief 3 weeks in a place, it’s so easy to make sweeping generalizations about the whole population there. the people in Myanmar are all very friendly. Japanese people are really picky about manners. Thai people are easygoing. so many new views I have of groups of people, and yet I have no idea how true any of them are or if they are only true of the handful of people Iâ€™ve met. all I can do is to keep traveling, keep meeting people, and keep learning more about them. a year is just not enough time.
the thing that strikes me so often is just how different people are. everyone eats different foods. everyone has different manners. everyone has different ways of doing things. people have various religions, clothing, and political views. some people eat with their hands, while others use utensils. some people wouldnâ€™t dream of eating a cow while others love steaks. some people have huge plates in their lips while others have stretched out necks. Iâ€™ve been to so many different places and seen so many different ways of life. and yet, surprisingly, I guess the other thing that strikes me is how *the same* people are. despite all the religious differences, religion for almost everyone is still a way of saying “thanks” for being here to the one who made them. no matter who they are, people all still work, eat, drink, and sleep. everywhere you go, there are still nice people, angry people, sad people, and lazy people. almost everyone has similar goals of living a happy life and supporting their family.
in Thailand, there is this expression “Same Same but Different”. it’s used quite often regarding things you get. when you wanted an AC , but instead you got a tiny room with a fan: same same but different. you asked for a blue shirt, but they only had red: same same but different. you ordered chicken but instead they serve you water buffalo: same same but different. with people, it works too. all these people from all these countries… everyone having similar desires, needs, emotions, etc… yet everyone expresses them differently on the outside, living in different structures, wearing different clothes, and eating different foods. that’s all of us really… same same but different.
once again, as usual, Iâ€™d like to ask anyone reading this to leave a comment below. even if it’s just short one. I spent ages writing this journal, and really it’s mainly because I want to be able to remember this stuff later, but still it’s always good to know that out there, there are people reading. so if you are, drop a line down below, even if it’s short or just “hi”.
wow. a whole year. let’s see how long I can keep going from now…