A year ago today. That’s when I left. Left for what would end up being seven amazing months, tooting across the country on backroads, visiting everybody that I know. So today, I post a follow up, a recap, a something; because it seems like the thing to do on a one year anniversary.
I left without a real plan. When people would ask, all I could say was “I’ll go west till I hit water, then north till they won’t let me any further, then east till I hit more water, then south till I run out of road.” I left the details intentionally vague, especially to myself. I wanted an adventure, and you simply cannot plan an adventure. So I sold most everything I owned, piled what was left into the back of my 4Runner and left everything I knew behind.
Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? I sure thought so. But there were some logistics to square away before all of that. The biggest of which was money. I saved for just over a year, living a meager life and putting every dollar away until I had just under $12,000 saved up for the trip. In the seven months of being a wanderer I would go through every one of those hard-earned pennies, plus some.
And there is the mode of transportation to consider as well. I attempted to purchase a truck specifically for the truck, but after finding some major(ish) problems with it, I ended up deciding on taking my faithful, and aging, Toyota 4Runner. I can happily say that in the 25,000 miles I covered I never broke anything more major than an anti-squeak spring on a brake pad. I got lucky, for which I am eternally grateful.
There are also travelling companions to decide on when going out on the road for an extended period of time. It sure does get lonely out there, so having company along is certainly an attractive option. But what if personalities don’t mesh? What if, after a few thousand miles, an argument sends everything scattering to the wind? As most of you know, I dodged this bullet with one simple answer: take the dog. He never talks back, he listens most of the time, and is fairly non-judgmental.
And then there is the ‘stuff’ that you pack into your truck. Inevitably, you will pack about two or three times as much stuff as you actually need. Part of it is ‘being prepared’ for the unforseen, part of it is not really knowing what you need to be prepared for, and part of it is just an emotional attachment to having stuff. I can say that in retrospect – only six things are truly required for a young man going on a driveabout on a tight budget in this era:
- Fancy pants. Or rather – fancy underpants. The underwear out there that advertise anti-microbial, anti-odor technologies to be specific. Anything but cotton. I went with Ex-Officio boxer briefs. Two pair. TWO PAIRS OF UNDERWEAR FOR SEVEN MONTHS! You can wash them in a sink (like at the coffee shop, or public park, or in the freakin ocean), they dry in half an hour at sixty miles-per-hour, and if you stay on top it, you can have a clean and dry pair of underwear every day of the week. AMAZING.
- Laptop. We live in a hi-tech world. Whether you are a photographer who needs to edit shots and post them to the world, or if you just need to find a coffee shop somewhere in the town you find yourself in, or even figure out where you want to go next, a laptop is your gateway to information. It is also a great way to stay connected with friends since you will no longer have a physical mailbox. Plus, you know you want to keep up on the facebook gossip.
- Thermarest. Yep, an air mattress, the expensive and high-quality type. I did the first few months without it, and will forever regret the many uncomfortable nights I had due to the lack. Whether it’s just making the truck a more comfortable place, or keeping you off of the skeevy-looking couch of that person who seemed a little too eager to invite you over to their house, a thermarest is a must.
- Mess kit. If you are travelling on a budget, that means you are cooking in campgrounds, or public parks, or on your tailgate in the Laundromat parking lot (oh yeah, I DID!). So do yourself a favor, and get a small stove that burns hot and uses a standard, easy-to-obtain fuel. On top of that stove put a pot with a lid (yes a POT, not a pan. Pots are infinitely more versatile). When you are done cooking have a tupperware handy to eat out of (preferably snap-lids to keep spills to a minimum) and some type of spoon or fork to gobble food into your mouth with.
- Power inverter. Because you have a cell phone and a laptop that need to be charged. And it’s easier to do it while you sleep than depending on coffee shop outlets which may already all be taken.
-Flexibility. Not the limber-in-the-joints type, but the mental type. Realize that you don’t know how the world works, that some people are crazy, and that every time you come up with a plan it is bound to change. Learn to adapt. It makes everything easier.
So now that I have the essentials packed up, what do I do? Good question. I think one of the most important things to do is to connect with people. So I called every friend I have, and found out where they are living and if I could visit them. I mooched a couch from many family members. And then I found out that I really don’t know all that many people, and have a fairly small family. So when I couldn’t connect with people I already knew, I had to go out and connect with people I didn’t know. Some of these were friends of friends, or friends of my sister’s. Some were just random folks who’s lives happened to briefly intersect with mine in a meaningful way. But throughout the whole trip, it was the people who made the most impact on me.
But I couldn’t always connect with people. Let’s face it – I’m kind of a weird dude, and with the ever-growing facial hair, I looked like a man just come down from the mountains. I often smelled like it as well. And so I had to adjust to suddenly having a huge amount of free time. I read books. I read all four of the books that I brought with me, and then I re-read them again and again. Eventually I swapped a few of them out with other book-ish folks, thank god. I snapped photos, which was by far my largest diversion, and allowed me to open my eyes to what was going on around me. I walked a lot. The dog loved it. And I worked out. Because I’m addicted to exercise, and I can do it anywhere.
All of this suddenly seems a bit out of place. What the hell happened to the romanticism of going on a trip? It sounds like I just wandered around being bored and lonely. And I did, but I’d like to think that I did so with a purpose. See, I set out with a set of goals in addition to my six necessary items. Obscure goals that cannot be adequately defined. Goals like “self definition”, and “seeing some of this country”, or the ever-popular “figure out where to go next in life.” As idiotic as some of these may sound, if you keep thinking about them (and keeping those memories around via a journal or blog or something) you can start to guide yourself pretty reliably simply by asking if a decision will help you define yourself (or test yourself). If it will give you the opportunity to see something amazing. Or if it will help you figure out where you would rather be. All of these goals are fluid. Any concrete answer you make up for them lasts approximately three hours before you decide you have to amend that definition, and thusly by keeping them obscure you allow yourself to always move toward whatever it is you want without having to constantly come up with new goals.
This is what I did for seven months. And it allowed me to have some great experiences. It allowed me to see places that I’ve always wanted to see. It allowed me to see places that I never knew I wanted to see. It allowed me to gain a much greater sense of self, and self worth. It allowed me to realize that I will never know what I really want. And most importantly, it allowed me to know what whatever comes my way – I’ll be just fine.
So here I am, a year later:
I’m still testing myself and defining who I want to be. I’m still seeing new and amazing things, even if they are all in my backyard. I’m still figuring out where I want to go next. I accomplish all of these goals in my work, in my relationships, and in my play. Every day. That isn’t too bad.
And I still only have two pairs of underwear. Some habits die hard.