When I set out on this journey, I planned to take in the world, not take it on. I went to places I’d read about, but never seen. Nowhere I visited was undiscovered. There were Starbucks, Apple Stores, and KFC’s most everywhere I went (for the record, I avoided them all).
I planted no flags, claimed no lands, delivered no blankets covered with smallpox. I’m not Columbus, da Gama, or Magellan. I just wanted to meet some new people, learn about these places, and begin to understand just how big the world is.
And it’s freaking huge. This fact first occurred to me as I rode along the bridge from Copenhagen, Denmark to Malm, Sweden. Surprising, I know, that it would take me so long. But, if you don’t already realize it, I’m generally an idiot. Anyway, as Michael and I went over, I looked down and saw the ocean (nearly 200 feet below). When I did, I thought about all of the explorers, sailors, tradesmen, and prisoners who have sailed to the places I was visiting. It would take, for example, six months for a convict to get to Australia from Britain in the early days. Now you can do it in less than 24 hours. That’s amazing, really.
Even though the world has gotten a bit smaller, it’s still big. And seeing so much of it in such a short period of time was, in some ways, difficult. But, as the French journalist, Alphonse Karr said,
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” And he was right.
There was a lot of change in a very short period of time on this trip. Eleven airports (Amsterdam’s was nice, but Sydney’s is cooler). Seven currencies (South Africa’s was the best looking). Eight hotel rooms (Queenstown was the nicest). On several occasions, like this one, I had no idea where I was (it’s off-putting to think, “Which continent am I on?”). But, as Mr. Karr predicted, all of that change got me into a kind of groove: Wake up. Explore something. Write about it. Go to bed. Repeat.
It hasn’t always been easy, though. Traveling alone means doing everything alone. Including eating (only four of my meals have been with other people). And, speaking of food, I’ve never known exactly what, where, or when my next meal would be. Finding a bathroom was a constant struggle, which meant I didn’t drink enough water and so was dehydrated for a large portion of the trip. Oh, and not having my phone to constantly fiddle with has meant that I have actually been observing the world rather than ignoring it. There’s a lesson in there.
Other aspects have been relatively easy. Dealing with time changes, for example, hasn’t been as difficult as I thought (although, maybe coming home will be a struggle). There are, in my opinion, two secrets to dealing with jet lag. First, take a Melatonin pill on the plane (it’s the naturally occurring chemical that puts you to sleep). And, second, force yourself to stay awake until a normal bedtime when you land.
People have asked what I’ve learned. A lot. For example, people in other countries don’t line up for things, they queue. And, very often, that queue is for a toilet (they don’t “go to the bathroom” and they certainly don’t even think about “going to the restroom”).
The biggest takeaway, however, is just how similar people are from all over the world.
Are you ready for my deep thought of the day? Can you handle it? Okay, here goes:
People are people no matter their country of origin.
It’s true. Some are idiots. Some are incredibly kind. Some are (forgive me) jerks. In fact, there are jerks from countries you think are filled with nice people and there are nice people from countries you think are filled with jerks. To that point, I know plenty of Americans who aren’t loud cowboys with a camera around their neck, which is what many foreigners think of us. I met great people from countries we’re supposed to hate (Iran, for example). I also met really awful people from countries we’re supposed to love (Canada, for example).
To borrow from President Kennedy,
“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future.”
As I look back on this trip, it’s impossible to believe that it’s been only one month. One month usually passes without much notice. It’s just 30 days — well, in this case, 34 — and you don’t pay a lot of attention to it. In the past, I’m sure I’ve spent an entire month sitting on a couch, accomplishing nothing. But, if you set your mind to it, it’s amazing what you can do with just one month.
Here’s what these 34 days have contained:
- 9 Countries
- 1 carryon suitcase and 1 backpack
- 16 airplanes (but only 15 landings)
- About 42,000 miles and 88.5 hours?on those planes
- 2 helicopters
- 3 ferries
- A sampan
- A funicular
- 2 Ferris wheels
- A jet boat
- Scores of taxis
- Dozens of buses, subways, and trains
- Lots and lots of walking
- Thousands upon thousands of stairs
- Many beers (82% of them consumed in Australia)
- 10 books
- Several new friends
It’s not overstating it to say this has been the most amazing experience of my life. I can’t begin to tell you how fortunate I feel to have had this opportunity.
My favorite memories are of Cape Town and jumping out of an airplane. Hong Kong was my least favorite place because they’ve bulldozed everything old and replaced it with shiny, new shopping malls. There’s a lesson in there, too.
When sensitive people find out what I’m doing, they inevitably ask whether I’ve been lonely. The short answer surprises me, “No.” Of course, I’ve missed everyone back home, but technology has brought you all closer and there’s been so much to do every day. I’ve encountered many kind people. And it’s impossible to be bored when you make the world your playground.
They say travel changes you. I don’t think I’m dramatically different. My perspective is a bit broader, perhaps. I have new friends. For most of my life, I eschewed “vacations.” I was wrong about that.
Oh, and it turns out the greenest grass is back home. I can’t wait to get back!