Trying to sum up a summer like the one I was fortunate enough to have this year is like trying to paint a mural with a single strand of horse hair. Pretty much impossible. After I came home from 19 months abroad in May, I spent just shy of four months basking in the company of family and friends; soaking up the majestic, natural beauty of Washington State; and taking every opportunity to absorb and get reacquainted with all the things I’d missed. I saw people I hadn’t seen in years, yet somehow it seemed as if hardly any time had passed.
Traveling the world for 19 months and living out of a backpack for seven of those has, unsurprisingly, changed me as a person. I knew it would. It’s one of those things you go into with an expectation to be changed. I was just surprised by how I was affected.
One of the big reasons people leave behind their lives at home and travel is for the experiences to be had throughout the world. Whether it’s slogging through a mountainous jungle in Borneo, floating up the Thanlwin River in Myanmar, or gunning the throttle of an antiquated Chinese motorcycle as you fly over the bumpy terrain of the Mongolian steppes; there are experiences to be had throughout the world that are amazing, unique, and challenging. It’s part of what makes this world such an amazing place.
Another reason people travel is to interact with other cultures. While we share our humanity with people around the world, our customs and traditions are so wildly different it’s staggering. Some things amaze, others horrify, still others confound; but they are, all of them, unique. One of the beauties of our species is the uniqueness inherent in all of our cultures, and the individuality of the people within those cultures. Experiencing all that first hand is one of the best things about traveling.
One thing I’ve been surprised to discover is how traveling has made me appreciate the things I have. You may enjoy your family and friends at home and think you appreciate them, but spend several months/years in the company of yourself and strangers and you’ll get all mushy the next time you see your loved ones again. You may think you’re not too attached to hamburgers and other American foods, but spend a chunk of your life eating rice dishes several times a day and you’ll weep the next time you sink your teeth into a bloody, charred chunk of steak with potatoes on the side. Oh heaven. Then there’s clothes. I never thought I’d miss clothes, but after seven months of wearing the same four shirts/pairs of underwear over and over and over again; it’s a thing of beauty to reach day five and be able to don something without doing a sniff test first.
I mentioned that I was surprised at exactly how I’ve been changed by my travels. The answer might surprise you too. I’ve seen and heard of so many people having ‘spiritual’ awakenings in far-off places. Gaining a new perspective, finding inner peace, blah blah blah. Not to take away from those people’s experiences, but that’s not what I was seeking and that’s not what I found. Rather, I found confidence, respect for myself and what I’m capable of, awareness of (some of) my flaws, and a realization of some things that make me happy. The best thing about all that? Those aren’t things that I need to be overseas in some magical new place to remember. Those are things I will carry with me forever.
I know I’ve changed from when I left home in October of 2011. I’ve had new experiences, met new people; people who I’ve laughed and cried with. I like to think these things have impacted me in a positive way. I hope I’m a better person than when I left. I hope I remember what I’ve learned; about the world and about myself. More than anything, I hope that this will be one magnificent adventure in a life filled with them. Here’s to the future.
Listless then, I took to roads
I’d never tread before
A fledgling soul, I hefted loads
Which left my shoulders soreI roamed the world both near and far
And caged my fears inside
I squandered hopes on shooting stars
And fought that devil PrideI’ve walked so far on weary feet
My heart’s gone further still
I’ve laughed with children from the street
Claimed mastery o’er my will
I’ve been broken, I’ve been humbled
I’ve climbed to heights unknown
Still, somehow, those times I’ve stumbled
Have been the times I’ve grown
I’ve reveled, cried; conquered, failed
I’ve seized hold of some dreams
This journey’s tested, I’ve prevailed
Survived all its extremes
The road has left my body spent
Ensured my spirit’s full
For now, at least, I am content
To trade this for a lull
I’ll cross the sea on lifeless wings
To kiss the land I’ve known
To see and hear familiar things
Savor the feel of home
The time will come, I know it now,
When I’ll walk these paths again
I’ll bind these memories to my brow
And reach beyond my ken
Soon I’ll enjoy that which I crave
The love of family, friends
I hope the road will let its slave
Be while this wand’rer mends
I visited Hong Kong for the Lunar New Year, visited the Korean DMZ, bought a scooter and rode all over the Gyeongsangbuk-do area, strolled through cherry blossoms in Gyeongju, visited the Korean Expo in Yeosu, hiked the beautiful mountains of Seoraksan, went rock-climbing all over Korea, frolicked in the mud at Mud Fest, ate dog soup, went to the beautiful island of Ulleung-do, played guitar and sang in front of an entire bar of people, finished a year of teaching some awesome kids, said goodbye to the many dear friends I made in Korea, learned scuba-diving in the Philippines, hiked the jungles of Malaysia, explored the urban jungle of Singapore, and finally made it to Thailand to play with elephants and tempt fate riding a motorbike through the northern mountains.
I am so lucky to be traveling the world and having the time of my life. Yet, in spite of my experiences and the fun times I’ve had, I know I’ve missed so much. I’ve missed Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family for the second year in a row. I’ve missed seeing my cousins grow up quicker than they should and hearing their stories. I’ve missed weddings and birthdays, new jobs and relocations. I missed my brother’s graduation from the California Maritime Academy and his subsequent departure on his first job in the field. I missed my sister leaving for a quarter abroad in Austria, where she seems to have had an absolutely wonderful, whirlwind of a good time. I’ve missed my parents slowly going crazy from having ’empty nest syndrome’. I’ve missed seeing my friend’s daughter growing up into a fast-talking, cute-as-a-button, Gangnam-style dancing machine!
I guess this holiday season is bitter-sweet. This has been the happiest, least stressful year of my life and I am having a fantastic time exploring the world. Yet, I also miss the family and friends – both at home and in Korea – whom I’ve left behind. As I look towards another year of travel and exploration, I feel my excitement and anticipation for the road ahead balanced by the weight of what it costs to live like this. To all of you back home and around the world whom I call my family and friends: know that you are always in my mind and in my heart. I miss you more than you know and can’t wait until I see you all again. Thank you for your kindness, your support, your stories, and your love. I love you so much.
This is a little something I’ve been working on for the past week or so. Growing up on a lake in the Pacific Northwest has instilled in me a love for all things water. I love swimming, floating, riding, and frolicking in water – whether it be fresh or salt. I particularly love the sea. I love the sound of waves on the shore, the taste of salt, the power present in each wave. It’s something that never ceases to thrill me and make me feel alive, regardless what corner of the globe I’m in. So here’s this, a bit of writing about a moment spent with the sea:
The wave breaks with a muted crash; a liquid crescendo peaking then fading to a quiet murmur until the next begins. The water is cold and sparkles in the light of the setting sun. Vibrant blues and greens curl into a pure white foam that rushes to shore with each surge of the sea. I sit on the edge of a rock – a pitted and rugged remnant of a volcano’s fury – and slip my feet into the ocean’s embrace. A contented sigh slips between my lips.
The next wave comes and the water sloshes up my calves. Bits of kelp whip past my legs, forward and back, subject to the fickle whims of the waves. A solitary crab tumbles past, legs and claws flailing wildly in a futile effort to gain purchase in the endlessly shifting sand. As it rights itself and seeks shelter under the abandoned shell of a moon snail, I feel the tug of a smile on my face.
The wind gusts, whipping through my hair and across my skin. Its cool caress is soft, yet insistent – my skin prickling at its touch. Above me, an osprey pinwheels in the sky, keen eyes searching the translucent shallows below. With a screech, it folds its wings and drops; plummeting with reckless abandon to snatch a gleaming, wriggling perch from the water. The raptor beats its wings once, twice, and takes to the skies with the ocean’s bounty – droplets of water flicking this way and that as they catch stray rays of sun like diamonds scattered to the wind. I let myself stare in open wonder at the sight.
I take my feet from the water, clasp my knees to my chest, and breathe in deep; the smell of the sea filling my senses. It smells of salt, sand, and life itself; mingled into a cocktail that is like a balm to the soul. The sun is beginning its quickening descent past the line of the mountains, lighting the cloud-dotted sky in brilliant hues of purple, orange, and blood red. It seems only moments before it is reduced to a burning sliver of fire, then only a memory. But not for long. I sit with the confidence that it will break over the horizon behind me with the advent of the coming day, as this world maintains its elegant spin through the heavens in an eternal cycle. The cycle of life: always turning, always beautiful, never the same. One more day, one more sunrise, one more wave. I smile and dip my feet back into the water. One more time.
So, as all smart travelers should, I was researching my options. Checking different destinations, different days, different carriers, etc. I’d been planning on flying to Malaysia for around $200-300 in the middle of October. It seemed like a good jumping off point for the rest of mainland SE Asia and was also cheaper to reach from Korea than Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, or Thailand. Then, on a whim, I checked flights to Manila.
Lo and behold, there was a flight coming in at a whopping $103 dollars (with taxes, surely it would be a little more).
When my eyes saw that price, my brain spoke up in a slightly anally retentive tone, “Ahem, excuse me, broheim, you haven’t researched or really even considered the Philippines as a – ahem – viable destination at this juncture. Mayhaps you should wait?”
But then, that little spark of id inside me – the one that screams, “DO IT!” when something crazy presents itself – screamed, “DO IT DO IT DO IT!!!” So I did.
After all, life gets lame when you think about it too much. The best decisions are spontaneous!
Hey Momma, I’m going to the Philippines!!!!
Dear Friends, Family, and Everyone Else
What a year, eh?
This year has been one of amazing opportunities, changes, and dreams come true for me. I spent most of the year living in Oak Harbor, a small town on in island in Washington State. Most of my life centered around my job working in a Go Wireless cell phone store selling Verizon Wireless products and services. In May, I accomplished my primary goal with that company by becoming a store manager. I was extremely fortunate and was left with a stellar crew, and was able to add to it to make it one of the highest performing stores in the area. Of the five months I was manager, four were the highest profit months in the store’s history.
Towards the end of the year, another fantastic opportunity opened up. Since university, I had been keeping touch with someone who worked with an EFL placement agency. Basically what they do is work with native English speakers to get them employment as EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers in South Korea. I’d wanted to do it for years, but had never been in a place financially or mentally to do so. Finally, after several years of working, waiting, and dreaming, I decided to go for it.
I expressed my interest and started the paperwork process. Then I agreed to a position. Then my work found out about my plans/I gave notice (they were extremely gracious about it too!). In what seemed like a chaotic maelstrom of occurrences, I found myself moving out of my apartment, quitting my job, selling my car, and moving across the world to South Korea.
And let me tell you… I have no regrets.
I make more than enough money to live on comfortably. I am able to maintain voice and face-to-face contact with my friends and family back home through Skype. I’ve made wonderful friends here in Pohang. I feel almost none of the stress I felt back at home when it comes to work and bills. I am truly happy. Finally, I am traveling the world and seeing things I have only imagined.
In spite of my excitement for the road ahead, and the many things I plan to do and see, I cannot forget or be ungrateful for the people I have at home. To my friends and family that I have left behind, I miss you so much. Thank you for your support, your prayers, and your excitement in hearing about my travels. Thanks for always having my back when I need it. You mean so much to me, and I can’t wait till I can see all of you again! To my family back home: I hope you have a wonderful Christmas together with lots of good food, good cheer, and hopefully a better Santa experience this year for my dad’s side 😉
This will be my first Christmas away from home. But I am lucky and blessed enough to have the love of my family and friends with me, and that makes more difference than anything in the world. Know that my memories of you make it so I can have a piece of home with me wherever I am in this huge, crazy world.
Merry Christmas everyone. I love you.
Now for a little special something (I stole the idea from Brandon…)
Kim Jong Il is dead. Certainly an interesting headline to wake up to. Especially considering I live several hours away from the border of two countries that are still technically at war. The death of such a man is definitely a good thing, and the world is a better place without him in it. I just hope the relations between North and South Korea do nothing but improve (and not all the reasons for that are selfish, I promise!).
Don’t have too much else to say about the whole thing… but I’ve realized what the scariest thing is about this happening…
If there is a zombie outbreak, I am waaaay too close to the craziest potential zombie out there!
So you want to live in another country. Awesome! You’re in for a life changing experience, it’s just a matter of making it happen. Here are some helpful hints on things to do before you leave.
- Research the country you are moving to.
Try and learn a little bit about the history of the country you’re planning on moving to. Find out what the citizens are proud of and who their heroes are. Know a little bit about the current political situation and who heads the government. Try and get a basic understanding of some of the customs (hand signs not to use, how to greet someone, whether or not to remove your shoes when you enter a residence, etc). Arriving in another country with a basic understanding of these things will not only prepare you somewhat for what to expect, but it also shows that you made an effort to understand the culture.
Now it would be very hard, if not impossible, to learn all the customs, traditions, history, and facts about a country before you get there. Chances are, in most countries, the locals will be able to tell pretty quickly that you’re not from the area. And you know what? They expect you to not know the customs. They expect you to make mistakes that may be disrespectful. Chances are they’ll laugh, tell you the correct custom, and then move on. At that point, all you have to do is share in the laugh, be gracious, and you’ve just learned one more custom from that country.
In summary? Do some homework, but don’t stress about it too much. You’re going to make a mistake, and it’s probably not going to be a huge deal. Just be gracious, respectful, and willing to adapt.
- Make contact with people before you make the move.
This can not only give you an idea of what to expect (good places to eat, the easiest way to get to the right city from the airport, areas in town to stay away from) but can also give you a small network of people to interact with as soon as you land. Moving to a foreign country can be exhausting, and one thing many people struggle with is getting out and meeting new people from the start. It’s certainly something I had a hard time with.
If you talk with a couple people in the area before you leave, try and find out where the local hang outs are. Find out if there is an active expatriate community. Maybe check out some sport groups if that’s your thing. If you can join a group, or a club, or an organization of some sort, chances are one, some, or all of the members will take you under their wing and show you the ropes of your new home.
If you can’t find a group to join, maybe see if there is a restaurant or bar that is popular among the expat community. Pop in there on a weekend night and you’re bound to meet at least one person who would love to talk with you about home. You’ve just got to be outgoing and willing enough to initiate a conversation.
In Pohang, I didn’t really meet anyone for the first 2 weeks or so. Then, I was introduced to one guy by one of my coworkers. Through him I met another group of people, who then plugged me in with the EFL community in Pohang. Now it’s simply a matter of picking some activities that I enjoy, and I’m meeting more people all the time.
The best things you can do? Be friendly, be active, be open to trying new things.
- Be prepared to leave friends and family behind with the knowledge it will be a while before you meet again.
This one is hard. Not everyone can move to another country, just because they can’t imagine leaving their friends and family behind. Thankfully, with the advances in technology, you can see and talk with your loved ones via Skype, Google Talk, or any number of other video chat services. Certainly no replacement for seeing them in person, but it’s much better than relying on letters and phone cards.
Still, it is by no means easy to leave your friends and family behind when you move to another country. Make time to see the people you love before you leave. Make sure you can contact them once you’ve left. Put together a mailing list, a blog, or get addresses so you can send postcards to people from each destination. Be certain that you leave an address or phone number that you’ll have access to once you get to your destination. Those letters and calls from home are things you grow to look forward to. Have your loved ones take pictures of themselves and keep them with you in your wallet or passport book. And most importantly, be diligent about maintaining contact once you’ve arrived.
- Set up someone you trust with the legal authority to manage your affairs back at home.
You’ll probably need a check cashed, or an account managed, or something done back home that requires you to be there during the course of your adventure. Set someone up as an account manager with your bank, utilities, cell phone, etc. Make sure that person also has a power of attorney, just in case. Make sure you TRUST THAT PERSON with handling all your financials. This will reduce the amount of headaches you have once you leave, and takes very little time to set up. Definitely worth doing!
- Try to learn survival phrases in the local language.
Just like learning about the culture, this not only shows respect for the new place you’ll be living, but it will make your life easier once you arrive. While English is widely spoken across the globe, there are many, MANY countries where it can be very hard if not virtually impossible to find someone with enough skill to communicate with you. If you know how to say hello, thank you, where is, how much is, and know the number system; you’re going to be in pretty good shape. If possible try and learn these things so you can recognize them in conversation. If you can’t? Get a phrasebook… that’s what they’re for.
- Pay off your debts and have some money saved up; even if you already have a job secured.
Just like starting a new job back home, it will probably be a couple weeks to a month before you get a paycheck. The last thing you want to have happen when you start your new life in another country is to slowly slip in to debt as you buy the things you need to settle in to your new place. Take care of your financial obligations before you leave. Have money saved and set aside. Notify your bank what country you will be in and how long you will be there. Get a foreign emergency number you can call in case your card is stolen. These things are essential. Financing your new life overseas with a credit card is a recipe for disaster, as any financial planner would tell you. PLAN AHEAD!
- Bring some of the local currency with you to get started.
You’ll probably get a better rate from a bank back at home and, chances are, you’re going to need some money at the airport for food, transportation, or a phone. And some vendors still only take cash 😉
- Know that you can’t possibly plan for everything.
Life is unpredictable. It always has been and always will be. There’s a fine line between responsible planning and over-planning. The easier you can accept that the unexpected will happen and the more prepared you are to take things as they come, the less stressful your experience abroad will be. The best thing you can do is to do your homework, make the preparations, and then let things happen. After all, part of the joy of traveling is living through all those amazing, unexpected experiences that come out of nowhere.
- Have fun!
Seriously, this will most likely be one of the most memorable, enjoyable experiences of your life. Keep an open mind, treat the people you meet with respect, and don’t be afraid to let new experiences take you by surprise. You only get to live once!
I first wrote Taithchwant as I was settling into my new life teaching English in South Korea. I had just started my Great Adventure, and couldn’t wait for the surprises along the road ahead. Little did I know that I’d be here, almost 6 years later, going back through my hundreds of posts and editing them for my updated blog.
All these memories I’ve made… It really has been a wild ride. And yet, I’m not finished. I read this poem and I still feel the tug towards places unknown, to things I’ve never experienced. Reading it, I find myself dreaming again of the Open Road Before Me.
I walk the road less walked upon
On mountains, valleys gaze
Furthest from my haven, home
Till at world’s end I traipse
I left my fam’ly, friends, my love
Upon the western shore
And find my shoes caked strangely with
The dust from foreign floors
I left my land, yet shall return
To sleep down in the loam
For now I walk, the road shall call
Me ever, softly home
Fate, come what may, I shan’t regret
My selfish, wand’ring ways
I’ve embraced life, and lived it well
Lived fully all my days