Thursday, April 22, 2010


I've been spending the last week in Spain, knowing that this is the last step before coming back to the United States of America. If I do come back on the planned 27th date, It will have been exactly 19 months since I left. I'll come within four timezones of regaining the day I lost to the international date line and have been earning back, hour by hour, for more than a year. I'll be one time zone from being able to say that I have, literally, been around the world.

I used to picture this point of my trip. I remember one time, getting off a plane from Cairns to Darwin, walking down the jetway, and imagining: what if this were the jetway onto SeaTac airport in Seattle? To be honest, it scared me. A couple times last year I had this weird recurring dream where I had flown home, and everybody was happy to see me, but kind of wondering why I was back. Then I'd realized that I hadn't gone to Africa, that I'd come so close to hitting every continent but had just missed out. My closer friends and family would console me by saying "well, you can always go there on another trip" and I'd sit there with five days growth of beard, nursing a warm beer, muttering "You don't understand, I coulda been a contender."

 Anyway it hasn't turned out like that, thank you very much. Instead, I mostly ended up rereading something I wrote a few years ago, at the end of a different trip. Especially one line: "And when someone on the street asks you 'how was it?', you’ll never be able to give them an answer that captures the whole thing no matter how hard you try."

In a backpacking culture that tends to ask people where they're from before asking their name, there's this moment I've gotten very used to. It's the one where the person you're talking to turns to you and says, "So, what brings you here? Vacation?"

I've been playing with how to answer that one for a while. Sometimes I'll be subtle but wanting them to ask more, so I'll say "something like that..."  Or if I don't feel like explaining, I'll just say, "more of a gap year thing." Or sometimes I'll be blunt and go for shock value: "nope. Round the world trip." Then they, thinking of your standard, round the world ticket of Australia's East Coast, Thailand, and Western Europe, will say "oh yeah, one of those. How long have you been doing it for?" That's when the jaws usually hit the floor.

Then come the questions. It's funny how varied they can be. It's like when I tell people I'm from Seattle. They immediately say one thing off a long list: Nirvana/Kurt Kobain, Sleepless in Seattle, Grey's Anatomy, Frasier, Starbucks, Microsoft, Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam (always a good one for me, since I went to their high school), Boeing, and of course, rain. The funny thing about it isn't that they they all do it. It's that they all pick only one thing off the list, and then say something about how everyone must always say that one specific thing. Usually they're really surprised to hear about the others. "Oh, wow. Hadn't heard/thought of those."

Same thing with the questions people ask when they hear about my trip. They're always hesitant because they think the one question that occurs to them is the same one question that occurs to everyone else, something I'm sick of answering. Usually it isn't. Honestly what happens is that most people either have no idea what to ask me or are just so intimidated by the idea that they change the subject.

Unless they're one of the 10%ish that asks me what my favorite country is. Then they're absolutely right to hesitate, because I cannot stand that question. Especially from the people who, when I ask for a category or some qualifier, refuse to budge and demand my favorite country, period. I've been trying to figure out a way to explain why that's impossible to answer, but every time I try to use a metaphor, they just don't get it.

"It's like, lining up all your friends and pointing at your favorite one." I say.

"Yeah, I could do that." They say. Apparently they don't have that many friends to choose from.

My favorites to answer, on the other end of the spectrum, are the ones who want to know either something about a place they want to go, or how they could do something like I've done. I want people to know how easy this is, and how much they stand to gain. We all dream of adventure. Every once in a while I'll get something on Facebook telling me I'm the most inspiring person friend X knows. This has swollen my ego to seriously dangerous proportions, and I'm very grateful for the other set of friends I have who can tell when my head has swollen to the size of a blimp and can go get the sharp needles out. But my point is while I'm flattered-- really flattered-- by stuff like that, I'd be even more so if what I have done gets someone else to travel abroad independently for the first time.

...that would be your cue to go look up flight prices, hostel availability, shared ride deals, travel destination info, travel insurance, and to sign up for couchsurfing. Have fun, kids!

In the meantime, Weathorr (scavvies, that one was for you), in its infinite wisdom has granted me an extra weekend in Spain before crossing the Atlantic. It was a tough call. Barcelona has been great, and weekends here are supposed to be magical, but there's also a little something happening in Seville called the Feria de Abril. And with a few friends over there, I've decided to go check it out.

Check out this entry's Photos.


  1. i can really relate to this post - except for the fact that we're not as well traveled as you are and that we're not going home yet.

    in egypt, when we told locals that we were from canada, they would simply respond "canada dry" - it seems like people know more about seattle than they do about canada!

  2. What I think is important to realize is not the inspiration of traveling around the world, but of doing something that you have always wanted to do. Not everyone dreams of adventure. Perhaps your tendency to lean towards boastfulness and superiority is degrading a more universal message: dream a little bigger and fear a little less.

  3. Okay, so what was your worst country?

  4. Mina- Glad you enjoyed it-- nice blog yourself by the way. I've got a Beware of Attack Penguin sign someone gave me back home, now I might have an idea of where it comes from.

    Emily- Ouch. Probably deserved that. Anyway, whether or not it's degrading a bigger message, I do want to emphasize that I want more people traveling. I think the world is better of for it, and the people who do it are as well.

    Helen- Oy. That's even harder. I don't think I want to go public hating on any one country. Even if I could, sounds like bad PR. Still, a good friend of mine pointed out that you often get much better stories if you ask them about what they hated than if you ask them about what they liked. Email me or ask me in person and I'll come up with something.