Living with depression is hard enough, but traveling with depression can be much harder and even dangerous. And I’m followed by its shadow around the world.Read More
Budget travel allows you to see the world on the cheap, but sometimes that extreme low budget travel breaks you. This is one of those times.Read More
How much value do we put into things as opposed to the raw value being alive? Recently, my Macbook Pro was destroyed, and taught me a valuable life lesson.Read More
What is this feeling I get in winter, and why am I feeling it? Some call it the winter blues – this seasonal depression that descends upon everyone when the cold grips us by the neck to steal our warmth and make our bones ache.
I don’t think that’s quite it.
At least for myself.
I know that it’s not just winter that brings me down… I have a feeling that it has to do with where I am right now. I don’t get these winter blues everywhere. Just when I’m home. Or in Washington D.C. which was once-upon-a-time home. I know now it can no longer be called home.
It snowed for the first time this season recently, blanketing every visible surface in white. I stared out the window as it floated to the ground, watching my breathe cling to the window, and then disappear, as if winter outside tried to steal it from me. This was the first time I had been close to snow in over 2 years and it was beautiful. So pure. So fresh. So new. And so finite. There is no doubt that winter in the essence of the season can be something to admire. Even to love. You begin to appreciate warmth. You grasp a hot drink or another person as if you won’t survive without it. Relaxation and coziness become a priority. You shiver and dream of spring as if it’ll never come.
There’s also the never-ending longing for something that I feel here. On cold and lonely days when you don’t have someone to help warm up the doldrums of winter or enough of something in your life to brighten your day in that monochrome world — that longing feels like I’m gripping ice until it burns.
It hurts. It’s a nostalgic cold, one that no matter what I seem to, can’t be thawed. A numbness. A void. I stare out the window at the captivating cycle of change and life and death before my eyes wanting to feel something. Aching to feeling something. Trying to trick myself into it. But I feel nothing. It’s as if I stare out the window trapping myself in this place and I want to leave, yet at the same time I keep myself locked in because I don’t have enough in me to leave. I’m lonely yet I don’t want to see anyone.
I look outward and my reflection stares back at my inward. I’ve been here before, eyes locked at my reflection and wondering what’s wrong. I wait for it to tell me, but I never get an answer. Why am I so cold? Why can’t I feel warmth right now? My whole being from bones to soul aches.
Before my recent return to the US, I was optimistic about opportunities in my homeland. I hadn’t truly experienced winter in years and looked forward to it. When I was in Scotland just months ago, I remember seeing snow on the peaks of Glen Nevis and wished I could touch it. And even seeing it now, I want to be outside in it and feel the bite as it melts on my skin. Yet, at the same time, I can’t gather the energy to.
In my mind, my return would provide me the much needed rest physically and mentally after 2 years of travel. A span of time filled with, to be honest, absolutely cray adventures, but not much time for productivity. Here, I’d have a space to set my belongings down and not have to move every couple of days. Being productive and creative would be top priority.
Instead, each day I stare outward and inward into the void and do nothing. Just stare. Trapped. Not in the house, not in a physical space, but trapped by the nostalgia this place brings. Trapped in the depression I thought I destroyed. Except, we can never destroy it, can we?
Good ole’ Jack can sum it up perfect sometimes. The longing for the road. It calls to me, and as much as I’d like to trick myself into thinking I can slow down for a while, there’s something inside of my that laughs at the thought. Something restless.
On this first snow, I did leave the house eventually. Not far, just into the backyard of my friends house where I’m crashing. I had to touch it. I had to feel it. Everything in sight was ice-covered and frozen in time. Still and quiet and empty. The only noise was a slight breeze that whistled faintly through the crooked branches clawing at the sky. I stood for a while, listening to the wasteland and knew just how much it mimicked my own feelings. I was frozen in place waiting to thaw. I bent over and picked up a pine cone that pricked me. I laughed to myself. It felt good to feel something.
It’s strange how a chaotic pile of rotting, frozen, and splintered wood can relate to you. Some days here I’m devoid of emotion, and other days I can’t pick through the random heap of them all thrown together. For someone who never tries to live too far ahead of himself and the in the moment, I can’t help look into the future longing for the feeling of happiness that I have when I’m on the move. To escape the fragments of nostalgia that linger here, winter or not.
I have yet to visit my parents graves, and I didn’t before my last trip either. Am I still afraid of that reality? Closer to detached. I’ve come to terms with their deaths but I didn’t expect to feel this way again when I returned. I know what my old “home” does to me. When I’m here, I feel stuck and stagnant. I can’t seem to gather my thoughts. I sit around and stare into nothingness. I swipe through dating sites just for the distraction but no real yearning for connection. I watch television without even watching. I think about drinking more than I ever do when I travel.
Was I lying to myself to think that I could come back and slow down? Was telling myself and others that I could supplement it with exploring the USA?
I don’t think so. But I know now that home is not, and will never be this place again. The only warmth and light I feel now when I’m in Maryland is when I’m with my friends and family. Spending the holidays with them has been one of the only times in the past month that I felt. And felt happy. It’s my crutch here. They have been keeping me up emotionally since arrival in November. But it’s not a constant. Home is somewhere outside of this place that I can’t help but feel trapped in. For now, home will live in them and when I see them.
Sometimes I can feel the warmth here and see the lighter side of things. It’s fleeting, like a snowflake landing on my open palm that disappears in moments. I’m in a job I really like. I’m happy to see people I haven’t seen in years. Not so bad huh? It’s not the situation that does this to me. and most of the day I don’t know why I’m up or down. It’s torturous. And difficult to hide most days. But I do, I hide the blue.
Somewhere out there I can call a place home even for a little while and feel just as alive as I do when traveling. For now, I stare out the window beyond this nostalgic prison. Beyond the depression that takes hold of me here.
I’m still waiting for the thaw.
After 2 years of travel, I’ve returned to the USA. Is this the end of my travels? With a feeling of dread, I discuss my return and what’s next.Read More
After 3 months in Croatia working as a photographer, I say goodbye. Though I was ready for change, leaving a place can be the hardest part of travelingRead More
Depression can hit you hard at any moment, but when it hits while traveling, it can be even more difficult to handle. And it’s just hit me more than ever.Read More
There are times when traveling challenges you, and other times when experiences break you and make you want to quit traveling. Here’s my hellish experience.Read More
I’ve left Australia months before my working holiday visa expires, and though I planned to go back, I’ve decided not to return to Australia. Here’s Why.Read More
I’ve just received the biggest opportunity of my life, and I’m gushing with excitement. It was all because of travel blogging. It’s taken years to come to fruition, and it might not seem big compared to others, but it’s big to me. This is how it happened.Read More
G’day mate! Or however you’d say that to a lady is Aussie slang. I’ve now been in Australia since June 2015 on a working holiday which makes it around 8 months since I arrived, and though I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs, it’s a pretty rad country. After my arrival, I went straight into work mode spending my days job hunting on foot or online. The last thing I wanted to do after embarking on another trip is to jump back into the “normal” grind, having only spent a depressingly short 4 months away from it.My normal cycle is travel from 6-9 months, return to the United States to work and save, and head out on another big trip. This time it was more short lived than previous years, and after spending a higher amount on the Rickshaw Run, I was left with an empty wallet. So, I followed some signs given by the universe and flew down unda’ to replenish the coffers.
This was the big fault in my trip to Australia.
I came here with the sole purpose to make money, and only days after arrival I let the urge to make fast money consume me. I need the money to keep traveling, but at the same time, I’m still in a different country. That’s not quite how I’ve treated it for the past 8 months, and as I close in to my next big adventure, I’m realizing just how little I’ve seen of Australia. I will be most likely departing Australia in May only to have seen Melbourne and parts of the state of Victoria.
To be blunt, I haven’t had much of a desire to see many other Australian cities. I’ve written about how countries like Australia and the even my home country the United States are beautiful, but I’m in love with ancient cities of countries such as Italy and Hungary. Modern cities shimmering with skyscrapers and bustling with business suits just don’t connect with my soul. That’s why the places I’ve seen in Australia that I’ve truly loved were the ones away from the city and in the wild. Places like the Grampians National Park and Wilsons Promontory fed my wild spirit. Driving the Great Ocean Road made me hungry again for the unfolding horizons. I really have no interest in visiting Sydney besides just the reason of saying I did. I can’t come to Australia and not go there, right?
Otherwise, there hasn’t been much that has called to me here. I find myself waiting tables and overly stressed and tiring of the city and the commute. I’ve been becoming more and more short fused, allowing myself to hold on to negative things from that day of work when I’m used to breathing frustrations away and never thinking about them again. That is with out a doubt connected to me doing a job I despise for money, waiting tables that is, but it’s also because I can’t help but dream of returning to Europe which is a part of my travel plans for 2016.
I feel I grow more disconnected the longer I stay, where I’d rather hole up in my room than have a chat with a stranger or a beer with a friend. Sometimes I lay in bed and think, “am I living?” but when I’m hiking in the mountains here I know, “this is living”. I should just go off and travel around Australia’s amazing national parks then, right? This has been an idea tickling my brain ever since I arrived, and as much as I try to live without the “what if woes”, a trip like that would put me back to square one with savings and I wouldn’t be able to travel much around Europe.
After only being able to spend 2 months around Europe in 2014, I dream everyday of exploring it more. And Australia is so damn expensive. It pays well to work here, but a day out in the city dining and having a couple of drinks can cost you $100 or more. A rental car to explore for a couple of days paired with petrol is about $300. Buying a van to tour around the country with can run $2,000-$4,000 not including petrol, and though costs can be split between friends, it’s still a budget breaker and most need to work again after a big road trip here.
That’s the kicker. Most people I’ve met in Melbourne have told me about their crazy road trips around Australia, but most have either done one and gone to do farm work to save more after running out of money, or have road tripped after doing farm work or another job and after must get a job again. But all of those people, from the UK to Canada to Europe, have a second year visa to pad that timeframe with. Americans on the other hand have strictly 1 year with no extension, and coming here with no money and trying to do a road trip or travel extensively is unrealistic unless I was planning on returning right back to the US after to work.
That is something I don’t want to do.
Working in Melbourne and waiting tables has taken a big toll this time around, and it’s got to be the last time I ever do this again. So does that mean my trip to Australia has been a sack of kangaroo poo? No. Australia has had its rad moments, like those mentioned where I saw the jaw-dropping and diverse natural beauty that has me drooling over Mother Nature, or in the amazing people I have met here that have become close friends. Those are the things that have made working in a city in a job that doesn’t cater to my creativity bearable, and this trip worthwhile. And who knows, maybe some of the experiences I’ve had here led me to an upcoming amazing opportunity that I’ll be announcing soon. An opportunity which will hopefully pave the way for my escape from the world of waiting tables and waiting for the next adventure.
Australia, or Melbourne in my experience, is a great place to live and work in that is funky and creative and artistic. It is a place one can live in and pursue creative endeavors and make a good enough living. Problem for me is that Melbourne is a great place to settle down and do these things, to have a base here where one might swap time between bartending and painting ongoing out with friends, but I’m not ready to settle.
Here, it’s hard to do all of these things and save up for traveling abroad. Most people I meet that are the creative types have lived here for years and are pursuing their passions. They love it. I just don’t love Melbourne enough to think I’d rather spend my money on nights out and short road trips instead of 6 months around Europe. In Australia you pretty much have to choose to become a bit of a hermit and put your savings away, or be social and explore and break even. And that’s how it in in the United States for myself, so maybe that’s why I have such a disconnect.
So, as my time here approaches the end I have come to terms with the fact that I won’t be seeing much of Australia, and I’m okay with that. I don’t feel like it was a mistake coming here, and in ways has helped me grow. In these last couple of months, I will be focusing on taking some smaller 2 day trips on days off like one to Sydney just for the hell-of-it and hopefully to Tasmania. But that big road trip I’d truly love to do across the country will have to come at a later date where I save solely for that. Maybe in a year or two I’ll return and spend a few months exploring Australia. It’s just not going to happen this time around.
Before I leave Australia, I will make it a point to get the most out of Melbourne and Victoria as well, so I will be using this page to post articles related to Australia here. Below you’ll find some of the adventures that I’ve already had, but make sure to subscribe to my newsletter I’ll be starting again to know when more go live!
Camping in the Grampians National Park3 Days exploring the sandstone peaks, stunning valleys, and diverse landscape of this National Park. Some of the best camping I’ve experienced.
Encounters with Deadly Animals Australia
Australia is often the butt of the “everything can kill you” joke, but it’s semi-true. As I was on a beach, I encountered one of the world’s deadliest creatures.
Exploring Melbourne Street Art by Night
Melbourne is a city famous for its street art and graffiti scene, but everything transforms at night from the artwork to personalities. Come see for yourself!
What are your Thoughts?
The new year is here, and with it comes the call of new adventure and time to reveal my travel plans for 2016. Fernweh, that farsickness, my longing for faraway places — tugs so strong on my spirit. The end of 2015 it was so strong it was painful. 2015 was more of a transformational year, but 2016 is looking to be a transient and nomadic one packed full of new destinations. It’s time to listen to my heart again.
2015: A Transformational Year
At the end of 2015 I was struggling with some past emotions ignited by the holiday season and by spending it alone here in Melbourne. During that time, I had intense waves of up and down emotions and moods that showed me I have a few more things still bothering me about my past to conquer. I hadn’t spent a holiday alone since I began traveling, and paired with my disdain for waiting tables and the desire to quit now and hit the road — it all came to a peak on New Years day. I felt lonely. I felt frustrated. I felt stuck. Then I took a good hard look to examine what was really bothering me.
Travel doesn’t heal, that was one of the most important lessons life on the road taught me, but it is the perfect vehicle for facing personal issues. And at the end of 2015 I faced another issue that I didn’t even know was haunting me — I disliked Christmas and New Years because of bad memories about my past.
That hasn’t allowed me to ever be a part of other family moments or traditions or to make my own. I was harboring this malice without even knowing, until it made November and December miserable for me. Then, I realized and acknowledged the issue. I’ve now been able to move on from this, and I believe holidays abroad now won’t be so grueling for me.
My Least Traveled Year
I pride myself as a slow traveler, but I traveled less in 2015 than I have since I began traveling in 2011. I kicked off the New Year in Port Au Prince with friends after exploring southern Haiti for 10 days on one of the best adventures I’ve ever been on. I loved seeing the fireworks over Port Au Prince on their independence day, sipping soup joumou, and getting this blog ready for launch.
Spring brought the twisted metal Rickshaw Run.
After ditching my restaurant job, I vowed not to go back to waiting tables and make 2015 the year where I focus on freelance writing and graphic design. I spent that first few months working on contract in DC for a media company and saving money. March arrived, and after months of preparation and raising money for the charity race, I was off to India to kick off the Rickshaw Run with my travel buddy Derek (The HoliDAZE).
Oh, how plans can fly out the window.
To say India broke me is putting it lightly. There are a lot of aspects about India I like, but there are also an overwhelming amount of reasons why it is the most mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting place I’ve ever traveled to. India is intense in all aspects, and exploring it after surviving 2,500km driving across in a rickshaw isn’t recommended. The Rickshaw Run is one of the craziest adventures I’ve ever had, in a good ways and bad ways, but after the stress a sever health issue experienced during it, I wasn’t in a good state.
Derek and I parted ways after the race when his visa ran up, and we planned to meet up in Nepal after I explored Darjeeling for a week. Then, the Nepal earthquake struck, and it changed everything. We were going to hunker down and edit the Rickshaw Run videos in Nepal for a couple of weeks, then head to do the ‘Stan Seven together. He was trapped in Nepal and I couldn’t get into the country. That’s when I decided on Australia, and a couple of weeks later was approved for my visa. And here, in Melbourne, I’ve been for the past 7 months.
Ups and downs are bound to happen on the road. Hell, I still get scared before every trip, and I ain’t afraid to admit it! There’s always excitement and an anxiety. I’m still fresh into the world of travel and learning lessons and making mistakes. My first trip and the fallout after showed me that I had to deal with my personal issues before going abroad again. My second stint, I was all over the map in Southeast Asia and Europe cementing the fact that travel is really what I want in my life. This time around, I’ve realized what I want my travels to be about and what I want them to be for.
While traveling, I still struggle with bouts of depression like I experienced recently in Melbourne over the holidays, or battling worries of my budget and how to make long term travel a reality. But I’ve now reached a point where I acknowledge these feelings and address them, as opposed to surprising them like I used to. So, even though I haven’t made leaps and bounds toward making a career from travel writing, I have made tremendous progress in understanding myself and making it a habit to focus on living positive.
Now I feel more focused than ever on travel and travel blogging, and given the upcoming adventures in 2016, I know I’ll have so many awesome experiences to share.
2016 Travel Plans
2016 is here and I’m itching to hit the road so much so that the pull to travel is almost painful! Melbourne has been a great city to live in, but my vagabond heart needs to explore. Sure, there’s tons to see in Australia and before I leave I at least need to explore some of the main spots, but “Western” cities and countries don’t create the kind of connection I feel in more exotic or ancient places.
Lately I’ve managed to get out of Melbourne and into the wild doing small road trips along the Great Ocean Road or camping and hiking for a weekend in the Grampians Nations Park. That’s when I’m in my element and feel happiest. So, even though cities like Sydney are a must before I go, I’m interested in Australia’s more natural side.
Here are some of the spots I have in mind to see before I go. As always with me, plans change like the wind, so I’m considering even renting a van or taking the train across. Until it happens, these are all tentative.
– Tasmania – Uluru and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory – Perth and the West Coast – Sydney – Gold Coast and Great Barrier Reef – Blue Mountains in New South Whales
April: Myanmar //
In April, I’ll get getting a dose of exotic when I travel to Myanmar for the second time with Jean of Traveling Honeybird blog. The trip came about randomly when I noticed Jean’s post on Facebook asking if anyone would want to tag along with her Myanmar adventure. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has inly recently opened it’s borders to tourism and is a destination that is still very culturally intact and not impacted by tourism takeover.
When I first visited Myanmar in 2013, it was just across the border to orphanages set up as schools to take in children from the previously war-torn nation. It was a depressing sight as I was tasked with photographing conditions for fundraising more orphanages and schools and saw the worst of the worst. Much of it was in the border towns along the Myanmar/Thailand border where many of the families have been taken advantage of that were seeking safety. Given that the country is still struggling with a violent and corrupt past, there are parts of the country that one simply cannot travel to, but my desire this time is to get to know the cultural and experience Myanmar through locals in interactions.
Plans are up in the air for what to do while there, but the country seems ripe for exploring by train and maybe motorbike, while Jean has also mentioned some multi-day treks which I’m always up for. Myanmar still doesn’t have much of an infrastructure, lacking ATM’s and banks in most places, so it’ll be an experience in all it’s own.
Also, after seeing Anthony Bourdain (my travel hero) explore Myanmar, I knew I had to as well.
UPDATE // Untainted Myanmar in Photos
Croatia. What can I say? Besides the fact that I’ve wanted to go here for years. Before I even owned a passport, a friend who had traveled through told me I should go there and work at a hostel. I didn’t even have a concept of hostels at that point, let alone travel, but after seeing photos it stuck with me.
Now, that opportunity has finally come. I’ll be heading to Croatia at the end of May to embark on one of the most unique and excited travel experiences my life: learning to sail while on the Mediterranean.
A sailing company called MedSailors contacted me one day out of the blue and asked if I would like to be one of their VIB sailors (Very Important Blogger) and I nearly leapt from my chair and danced about. Okay, I did leap from the chair and dance. They run sailing trips from more laid-back journeys, to the Discovery Option geared toward seeing and experiencing more. I had the choice to do Greece, Croatia, and Turkey, and though it was a hard choice, I knew I wanted to have this experience in Croatia most.
May 28th I’ll be taking off on a sailboat with MedSailors from Split, Croatia to live on the boat and learn to sail for 7 days, while visiting small Croatian towns and islands along the Mediterranean and seeing the ancient landscapes, experiencing the vibrant culture, and enjoying the nightlife. The route bounces from small islands down the coast and back up to Split, where I’ll be taking a transport provided by MedSailors to head down to Dubrovnik after. You know what that means — Game of Thrones fantasy fulfilled. Plus, the walled city has always been a top place I’ve wanted to visit.
After my sailing trip and exploring Dubrovnik, plans are in the air depending on a few factors. But one thing I know for sure is that I’ll want to see most of the country before I leave. See below for update.
JUNE/JULY: Work in Croatia //
Big news announced that change the rest of my travel plans for the summer months in Europe. I’ve received one of the biggest opportunities of my life and I’ve been chosen to be one of the summer photographers for MedSailors for two months from the end of May and through July. I’ll spend the summer living aboard a sailboat taking photos of people enjoying the same tour I’ll be taking part in mentioned above.
JUNE August: Eastern Europe //
Given I’ll already be in Eastern Europe, my doorway to exploring the rest with be Croatia, and after I’ll begin my journey through the rest. In 2014, I explored a bit of it with brief trips to Prague, Budapest, and Vienna, but I’m hungry to see more. I don’t have a planned route at all, or even an idea about how I’ll get around, but I’m sure I’ll figure that all out when I’m there. I’m thinking buses and trains, though I’ve heard that can be a bit pricey.
One thing I’m interested in is hitchhiking as much as I can through parts of Eastern Europe.
A reader of the blog told me all about his adventures hitchhiking all the way through Eastern Europe back to London and the incredible experiences he had, so I’m game to try. Also, being a lover of anything involving castles and ancient history, places like Turkey and Romania are screaming at me to visit.
If you have any ideas or experiences traveling Eastern Europe, please do give a shout!
JULY: Mongol Rally //
Adventures in 2015 were kicked off by the Rickshaw Run in April, and as you all saw, it was an insane road trip. Even with it being an exhilarating and unique way of experiencing a country and raise money for a good cause, it left me with health issues and travel fatigue.
So why would I consider doing something similar again, except this time it would take 2 months and we’d be traveling from London to China through the most grueling terrain on the planet? Because obviously I have an addiction to doing things that may kill me. In reality, it’s just the craziest thing I can imagine doing and I love road trips, but one through all of Europe and Mongolia to the border of Russia would be the ultimate undertaking. I want to do these things while I’m young(ish) and reckless.
The Mongol Rally would again be done with Derek of The HoliDAZE like last year, but we are only just now talking about it. Time is ticking on entering and fundraising, so we have to decide soon if it’ll be this year or next. For now, this travel plan is a maybe.
UPDATE // Due to the overlap of my job in Croatia with MedSailors, the Mongol Rally is postponed until 2017.
AUGUST: Burning Man //
This is another big maybe, but Burning Man is one thing I’ve wanted to partake in for years now. I know plenty of friends and travel bloggers who have done it as well and all they say is that it’s life changing. Tens of thousands of people in the middle of the desert creating a free and artistic community, and enjoying music festivals and more. This depends really on whether or not I do the Mongol Rally, so if that doesn’t happen, Burning Man is a sure thing.
Fall 2016: Unknown //
For someone who doesn’t plan much at all, these are the most travel plans I’ve ever had lined up, and even these aren’t set in stone. So after things unfold and I see where the first half of this year takes me, I” have a better idea of where I’ll be going this fall. Will I visit the US and explore a bit more given fall is my favorite season to explore the States? Will I take off to Central or South America finally? Who knows, it’s all dependent upon my budget and my encounters along the way, because I could meet some awesome people who give me new inspiration for where I should go next!
>> Where will 2016 be taking you?
Have you always dreamed of faraway places? Want to see the world and don’t know how? Here is how to make your dreams of traveling the world a reality!Read More
To say that travel changes you is a vast understatement. Whether you like it or not, long-term or frequent travel will have some impact on your life and your mentality — but it is up to you to be open-minded enough to absorb and grow from those experiences. And travel did more than just change me. So what life lessons have I learned after 4 years of travel?Read More
Celebrating holidays abroad can be one hell of a jolly time, and it can also be a solitary affair where you wrestle with the joy of travel and the ache for nostalgic tradition. This Christmas, for me, was just that.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his year I celebrated Christmas in Melbourne Australia. Unlike the past few Christmas’s that have come and gone while traveling, this one was more or less forgettable. You can’t really call Christmas this year as “celebrated” — I did nothing related to the holiday; no opening presents or feasting with family or drinking egg nog. I didn’t decorate any halls, or sing any carols, or sip wine by a fire. I didn’t even watch a Christmas movie.
Instead, I was alone.
I spent the day wandering up and down streets of Melbourne. I wandered the entire day aimlessly, accompanied by the remnants of a hangover, for about 5 hours. Up and down alleyways and laneways. Thousands of ants scurried about looking for last minute gifts in a maze of streets. Couples holding hands and enjoying the festive decorations of the city. Starbucks packed out of the door with those desperate caffeine addicts. I went twice. Maybe for coffee, or maybe just to say something to someone that day. Someone that wouldn’t carry the conversation further. Someone that wouldn’t ask questions. Someone who wouldn’t talk about family.
All of Christmas day I walked. I had a long think. A much needed think. And I was alone on Christmas day by choice.
Why would I want to spend Christmas alone, especially while abroad?
It’s not like I didn’t have my options to choose from. Fellow co-workers from the restaurant had invited me to an orphans Christmas picnic on the beach, and there were also a few friends that I could have easily reached out to and joined in on the festivities. It’s just that I didn’t want to. Not like their company isn’t great, because it is, and it’s not like I wouldn’t have had a fun time. In the past, whether it be Christmas in New Zealand or Thailand or Haiti — I spent it with friends as well, old or new. Though it didn’t feel much like Christmas in those places, being with friends helped dilute the inevitable sorrows of nostalgic flashbacks. This year it all came back.
Christmas as it turns out has been a tainted holiday for a very long time. Just like that graffiti above that I found on Christmas Day in Melbourne.
And that is the reason why I had to spend it alone this year.
My ghost of Christmas Past
Growing up, Christmas in the Brown household was the only time when our family was just like everyone else’s. I could finally lose that year’s thrift store finds I wore to school, usually the same clothing a couple of days in a row that sported holes and grass-stains for the style. A fair chance at being a cool kid for a few weeks. A few weeks of not being made fun of for my shabbiness. My brother and I were getting shiny things and new things and fun things just like all of the other kids. Though my brother was arguably better at dealing with the other 364 days of the year because he wasn’t the runt that I was. No one picked on him.
And instead of a tension in the family that was either always threatening to snap or stretched until it did, it was a colorful time of momentary happiness heralded by the smiles of anticipation followed by satisfaction. The only red and blue lights that day and night would come from the heart-beat of the Christmas lights around our triumphant tree. My brother was there, not at some friends house as he usually was. My mother was there, not coming home late at night from some unknown place. My father was there, not belligerent on Milwaukee’s Best and foaming at the mouth. We were a family.
Stockings were retrieved from the attic — retired each year to the darkness until they can be brought back into an airier and lighter time in the house. Christmas time. The only time they could exist, because they held pure joy…and candy. On Christmas day there was no fear about drunken arguments or fights. The folding attic stairs would moan as they were pulled down, like a great old man stretching in a brief and youthful glory. Those stockings, their faded crimson and pine colored velvet surface sported patchwork islands of gold sparkles that would flash along the decade-old browned glue, once spelling out our glorious shimmering names in cursive.
They were from some past time when my brother and I were both much younger, maybe conceived at a school holiday event or made at youth group at our church. Either way, there was a life to them that had shared moments with us, and seeing them each year brought me back to a time when I wasn’t conscious of things beyond a naive baby’s beautiful mind. Just pure happiness. When I didn’t remember the nightly grip of anxiety wondering if my father to explode. The stockings smelled like the attic always, that dark place above the house that held happy memories and holidays. Like my mind.
The stockings were hung near the cardboard chimney that was set up in the split living room, just beyond the shelves adorned with tiny clay elves and cheap yellowed plastic candles. Santa, I was told, would come down that water-stained cardboard chimney, but only if I was a good boy. Sometimes I’d sit there and gaze at the makeshift chimney wondering if my parents got into a fight, would he skip our house? What if they weren’t good this year? Would I not get presents this year? Would I have to go to school and watch all of the other kids flaunt their new stuff?
I’d sit there, on that mangy blue carpet that smelled of damp cat, marveling at the prospects of presents. Hoping I’d see a reindeer or Santa himself. Even though I knew I wouldn’t. After the age of 5, I had the gist that Santa wasn’t real, but I’ve always been the imaginative type. It was my escape from the reality of our house since my earliest memory. I’d sit all day imagining magical moments outside that yellow asbestos-shingled shell. The shards of our family in that broken home were pieced together for one day.
Everything felt whole, and I felt whole.
Leading up to Christmas was the best part. Either my brother and I or just myself would accompany Pops up the road to Hawkins. That family-run produce stand housed in a half-collapsed wood shack which always smelled simultaneously of fresh fruit and rotting fruit. A nostalgic landmark of better times. If it was cold enough, I’d jump and slide across the frozen puddles created from the potholes in the gravel driveway. My father was always ahead of me, eager to join the other silhouettes around that same rusty barrel that was there every winter, glowing with orange embers and warming the swaying souls around it.
I’d run up to them rubbing my hands close to the red-hot steel and my father would belch loud into night, head tilted back like a howling beast, his hot stale breath floating into the cold crisp air. He would have finished a beer and crushed the can and thrown it into the barrel before I reached him. As the sparks of his first victory leapt out of the barrel to dance with the stars, he’d growl at me to “Go pick a tree already” and I’d run off into the forest. The smell of pine is the best smell in the world. The deep green would flash by as I’d run and explore the labyrinth of Christmas trees perched on wood pallets in the muddy lot, inspecting each one for it’s worth and all the while playing hero in some wintery fairytale. The close roar of laughter would be the creatures in the night. After some time, I’d try to pull my father away from the warmth of the barrel and the call of beer, and he’d always say, “One more and we’ll go.”
One or two more would be guzzled and sent to the flames, and only then he’d toss a tree into the bed of our grey rust-spotted Ford. I would wince as the tree landed with a thud, like I could feel its pain. I’d haul myself into the truck onto the seats that reeked of sweat and gasoline, my feet shuffling around in old receipts or trash, and buckle up. The truck would roar to life, gears grinding in the old beast, and we’d thump over the small ice-patches and into the street. His beard, beaded with small orbs of beer, would reflect the street lights like a Christmas tree. He, like the truck, always smelled of gasoline and stale beer too. We only managed to go off the road one of those nights when the beer and the black ice proved to be a bad combination. Not a bad record.
“Can we decorate it tonight?” I’d beam, and he’d say, “Not with me. And I don’t know where your mom is right now.”
But I knew she’d be home sometime. I knew she wouldn’t miss decorating the tree with me. The decoration was our ritual.
I’ve decorated trees with a few families now, or watched them decorate it, but it wasn’t the same as our ritual. Mom would be home one night, and she’d shriek out to me, “Bear! It’s time to decorate the tree!” and dammit I was the most excited kid on the planet. Tinsel would be strewn everywhere as we tore into boxes that held the happiness from the past Christmas trapped within. I’d find the old scratched gold and red and green ornaments and watch my face warp in them.
Hanging the ornaments was meticulous, they must be distributed evenly. My brother would join in on occasion, but usually he’d get bored and either sit back and watch or head out to a friend’s house. My father would probably be at China Gourmet up the road, the local dive for most of Kensington’s famed drinkers. The tree would come to life with ornaments that we as children had made, with the warmth of the lights, with silver strands thrown about.
As Christmas approached, I would lay down every night on the beaten teal couch that faced the tree, and I’d watch the Christmas lights twinkle with their warm colors until they became kaleidoscopic blurs and I succumbed to sleep. Somehow in the mornings I’d wake up tucked into my bed, and I’d repeat it again the next night. It was magic. That warmth, the glow of the Christmas lights, that was my favorite sight. Somehow all of the worries in the world, even the daily worries that my childhood self had somehow acquired, would melt away. I could lay there all night every night as the house slept and the wind howled and the tree comforted me.
Christmas day we’d tear into presents like wild animals. My brother and I always got caught trying to sneak into the living room by trying to pick the lock on the door with our tooth brushes, but once Pops was awake we’d be released to maul the wrapping paper. The Santa and reindeer patterned tatters would fly into the air, and I’d gasp at the new shirts and pants and socks. I’d pull out a new Lego set and immediately began to pour them onto the ground, only to be halted by the, “We’re going to your aunt and uncles soon.” Though we’d always go to one of their houses for Thanksgiving, I wouldn’t be dressed in that year’s scuffed up clothes but new clothes. There was dinner and feasting and laughs. Usually, still feeling like I didn’t quite fit in, I’d be content to play outside running about waving stick swords or looking for their 3-legged cat. Everything was whole.
Then, of course, Christmas would pass. Life would return back to normal, if that was normal life. I thought it was for everyone. My brother most nights would be out somewhere in the neighborhood. I’d be at home building Legos. Pops would be either out with mom, or drinking in his chair that conformed to his body, with a few beers on standby in the holders. Either scenario, when one or both would return, the screaming and yelling would start. Then the slamming and pounding. Then the shrieks of pain and terror. And finally the cry of the sirens. I’d be standing there as the police once again showed up, not with the tree lights dancing in my eyes but the blurred police lights in my tears. The magic was gone, 364 days to go.
Christmas began to lose that magic after my mother took her life.
There had been plenty of Christmas’s during the frequent separations of my parents that I spent it in different places. I’d celebrate Christmas with my father and brother at home, and then go off to celebrate Christmas with my mom, usually with ridicule from my father and the absence of my brother. Be it at some random place she was staying, or with her side of the family, I’d still go with her. Pops would make me feel ashamed for going to see her that day, always blurting out something like, “You’d rather spend the whole day with your druggy mom huh?“. My brother not coming with me either would make me feel as though I was doing something wrong. Sometimes dad wouldn’t tell me that she called until I made a fuss about seeing her. I had to, she’s my mom, and we had our ritual. She’d be happy on some Christmas days, and weeping others. But we were together.
Ever since her death, Christmas has haunted me.
The first Christmas that she was truly gone, I slept by the Christmas tree like I did as a child. I was early teens by then, but I still had that pit of desire for Christmas to be like when I was younger. When we were a whole family. That night, while sleeping, I was startled awake by a sound and a presence in the room. I heard the distinct sound of my mother’s favorite tan heels that she’d wear to important places like church click-clack in the room, and when I jumped up, they trailed off down the dark hallway toward her old room. She was there, I could feel her and smell her and hear her. I wept, for it was this immense comfort that washed over me but also a deep sorrow so painful I could feel it in my chest. Hot tears blurred the Christmas lights that night, and I never told my father or brother about it.
My Father’s death was when Christmas lost all of its magic.
After my father passed in summer 2007, almost nothing had magic anymore. Or joy. Especially Christmas. I would celebrate Christmas with my brother at my uncle’s or aunts, but I would make excuses not to attend Christmas with his wife’s parents. I’d spend some Christmas’s with families that had been there for me as a child and had seen everything unfold. The ones that always took me in like I was their own boy, without question, or places I’d spend long breaks from school at just to escape. But by that point in my life, I despised Christmas. I hated Christmas. It made me feel angry and lonely and confused and jealous. These families were my own by everything except blood, but as they celebrated it together and had their own rituals and stockings and stories, I felt a void.
Being surrounded by Christmas, or holiday cheer, or people who were happy to be together — it hurt my whole being.
Every one of those families has taken me in and made me their own, and treated me as their own, and even got me presents and stockings with my name on it. As I would sit there on Christmas with my various families; be it my uncle’s or aunt’s or the others that have become my own, all I could do was concentrate on holding back the storm of emotions inside me. I’d sit there and want to scream and imagine taking every ornament and shattering them. I’d remember holidays with mom and dad and my brother, those damn nostalgic memories. The feelings that I hated experiencing forcing their way back into my mind. I would watch everyone from a distance on Christmas and I know they could feel my absence of emotion. But it was really myself trying to hold back all of the emotions. I always felt like I would vomit. I’d be trying to hold myself back from crying.
I haven’t had a proper cry in about 8 years.
Because last time I cried was the Christmas after my mother’s death, as well as at the funeral of my father. Since, I’ve felt like if I were to cry, the sky would shatter in a hail of screaming porcelain and the world would end. Because it had on both of those days. And Christmas since always ignited those memories.
My Christmas’s Abroad
Though Christmas and holidays abroad have been difficult times for me, they’ve also been a slow build to bringing back some semblance of joy during holidays. Gradually, I’ve been coming to grips with those issues, and each destination has proven a lesson. This year in Melbourne was the biggest lesson of them all. But first I have to go back to the other places that I’ve been in for Christmas over the past 4 years.
<< New Zealand >>
Christmas in New Zealand was the first Christmas I celebrated abroad. It was a crazy time for me, one where I was discovering the world and myself and life unhindered. It also allowed me to, for the first time, let go of most of the bad mojo I felt toward the holiday. I was in Raglan, and spending it with other backpackers that were on a bus tour across the north island. All day we relaxed on the black sand beach, swam in the crystal blue water, and took cliché group jumping pictures.
That night, we cracked Tui beers and made a pasta feast together while watching The Lord Of The Rings. Later, we explored the surrounding hillside and hunted for glow worms. I tried and failed to flirt with a girl that night, but other than that, I didn’t feel anything negative. Before sleep, I stared off toward the silvery ocean in the twilight and felt a pang of longing, but that was all.
<< Thailand >>
The next Christmas I celebrated abroad was Thailand, which was a bit more of an emotional experience. On Christmas Eve I was in a bungalow on the calm side of Koh Phi Phi where I had a conversation about my parents with a girl I met. She asked me about the topic randomly, and after swallowing the knot in my throat, I told her everything about my parents deaths. As I was finishing telling her about my father’s passing, the wind began to howl in an otherwise dead quiet night, and the lights in my bungalow suddenly shut off. the power was completely out. Moments later they came back on, but I could feel my father’s presence as the wind died again and all went calm. It could be just Thailand power grids, but I felt him. I nearly cried, but to avoid catastrophe I didn’t.
Christmas Day I met up with Hannah and Adam, some fellow travel bloggers, and we went down to the beach area and drank and watched the fire shows. It hit me a little harder there, as everyone was in full drunken Christmas mode and Hannah and Adam were calling their parents to talk on Christmas. I got way too wasted, and I slept on the street that night.
<< Haiti >>
My last Christmas abroad I was in Haiti for it with my good friend Viky and his girlfriend. We found ourselves in a random small town near Camp Perrin and stopped for the night in a hotel. That Christmas Eve night, we snacked on plantains and drank bottles of Haitian rum. He had her, and she had him, and I had the rum bottle, but I didn’t feel any sadness. Just a stillness in the heavy and hot air. A stillness in myself.
No hatred or remorse. Just nothing.
Christmas day we explored Voodoo caves, and upon finding out that our young guide’s brother was in the hospital and would not be able to save him because they couldn’t get blood, we decided to help. Only Viky and I had thick enough blood to donate after being dehydrated from hiking, so their brother was able to get the type he needed in exchange. As a thank you, their family had us stay with them the night and in the morning brought us in for a prayer. “A Christmas miracle” they said in Creole.
Holding hands in that shack as the women sang songs in Creole and cried for joy for their son, something awoke in me. I felt something. Holding the rough hands of that family beneath the tin roof, joined with my friends in that journey, I was suddenly okay with being a part of other people’s lives and other people’s Christmas. I nearly cried again, because that was one of the most intense experiences I had ever been a part of. But I didn’t.
<< Australia >>
This year, as I noted in the beginning, I’m in Melbourne for the holidays. Holidays in a city like Melbourne, where I’m working in hospitality while everyone dines with family and shops and celebrates together, was a bit tougher to handle. I worked long hours for office parties and family feasts. I waited tables for people on Christmas Eve, and the whole day I felt a well of anger inside. I didn’t like it. I’ve gotten past my anger over the holiday, and I didn’t hate it anymore. At least that’s what I thought. But here I was serving tables and refusing to wish people a Merry Christmas. I was a Grinch. All I wanted to do was drink, and couldn’t wait until I was off to go out with the work mates.
Wasted is putting it lightly.
A group of us went out Christmas Eve and I was drinking like I was in a contest and we were running out of time. Scotch after scotch after scotch. I danced the night away and laughed with friends and all of that felt falsely great, but I was doing it not because I was enjoying their company on a holiday when most of us were away from our family, but to cover up how I felt. It’s not that I’m been beating myself up over having a rager party night and let loose, but it was why I did it. Everyone on surface level was in the same situation, with all of us creating an orphan Christmas and being there for each other.
But In my mind, I was just looking to drink and get wasted and dance and find someone to hook up with, just because I felt immensely lonely and had to mask it. Something had brought forth those negative thoughts and feelings about Christmas once again, and I was trying to drown them any way possible. I didn’t want the night to end, so I kept drinking and trying to convince everyone to stay out later. But the night did end in a seedy dive bar dancing to electronica amongst ghosts of people flailing about in a drug induced zombification. At some point it hit me. I set my drink down and told the last of the group I was heading out.
I didn’t want Christmas to come the next day, but I was done with the artificial happiness of the night that wasn’t making it any better.
Facing My Fear Of Christmas
Melbourne was like Santa and his reindeer barfed up red and green and sparkles all over the city. Every corner you went around there was some sort of Christmas display. All month it made me sick. Maybe because those other places I celebrated the past few years wasn’t so in your face, but suddenly I despised Christmas again. And I hated feeling that way, I just couldn’t help it. And after Christmas Eve when I woke up the next morning stuck to my bed in the summer heat, seeping whiskey scented sweat, my head jackhammering with a headache, I felt a sinking feeling of depression. It seemed as though I hadn’t actually conquered my issues with Christmas, only ignored or masked them. As message after message popped up from co-workers asking if I was coming to their orphan picnics or others of people making plans, I didn’t want to be around that. Not around Christmas. I didn’t want to have to invent a story about my family if the topic was brought up, because I didn’t want to talk about the truth.
Instead, I spent most of Christmas Day in bed.
That was partially due to my hangover, but it was also me hiding from the inevitable emotions of the day. Around 3pm my stomach began to painfully ache with hunger. I thought about just ordering delivery so I didn’t have to leave, but I was sinking deeper into my bed every ticking minute and I’d soon be consumed by this quicksand-like depression. Laying there was making things worse. So I peeled myself off the bed and went down into Melbourne CBD in search for some food and distraction.
It was Chinatown where I found solace.
The lack of Christmas vibe could have been what attracted me, but maybe I was drawn to it by nostalgia. During holidays growing up when my father didn’t want to cook, we’d always end up ordering Chinese food. Always up at the China Gourmet restaurant mentioned before for their annual Christmas party. Something about being in Chinatown felt familiar. I spent about an hour walking the streets and alleys of Chinatown looking for a place to eat. Most places were open, but I just wandered even with the groans of my stomach.
Eventually I found a suitable hole in the wall place, one that had barely any English on anything and one with nobody that wasn’t Asian. Except me. I sat down and ordered a water, hot and sour soup, and fried noodles. I sat watching the other diners talking and slurping down their food and all the while reflected on that previous night, and the month.
What went wrong? Why was I suddenly filled with despair?
When the food came I ate like I was grazing, slowly taking methodical bite after the next, taking my time to enjoy it, and observing the world. In my head I was tracing through days and weeks and months of events, of past and present situations. Trying to decipher why I was being so bitter and why I was feeling the need to supplement my normal calm spirit with reckless abandon. I wasn’t too reckless and it was only one night out right? That’s not what was eating me alive, it was the reason for why I felt the need to drink it all away that troubled me. With the greasy Chinese meal finished and the hangover subsiding, I left Chinatown behind and went to the river. Water always has a way of calming me, and there I sat by myself watching the sun sink lower every passing hour. Two hours I sat there thinking, and as the sky turned to lavender and the sun fell below the horizon, I came to a realization.
I’ve been able to handle Christmas with distraction, but I haven’t dealt with it personally.
All of these years of traveling I’ve battled feelings from my past and worked on conquering the darkness to live in the light. I’ve faced the torment of my parents deaths and of the things I witnessed as a child instead of running from it. I was able to finally accept it all, and work on my own inner turmoil and destruction to live a happier life that I fill with tangible and enriching things. Instead of wallowing in a pit of sadness and destroying myself physically and mentally, I chose to start living. But as I traveled and spent those holidays with friends in exotic places, I was hid from that wound until the holidays passed. Until the next year when I’d distract myself again and put a band-aid over it. I had focused on being in my right mind 364 days of the year, but I’ve been skipping over one that clearly still had an adverse affect.
This year was the perfect storm.
I was faced with less distraction while waiting tables, and it allowed sadness to fester. And it lead me to an urgent and desperate temporary solution. To get drunk just to forget. The last time I had that happen I nearly ruined my life forever. I realized I needed to face this as well. All day as I thought, and all day my other families were on my mind. And my mother and father. When I was abroad for holidays previously, I didn’t think too much of them. I didn’t think much about anything really, I just went along with what everyone else was doing. To think about people back home might bring back painful memories. Instead, my mind had a subconscious block. Living in the moment! The past is past and the now is life! Unless you don’t deal with your past. That mental block failed this year.
I wrestled all month with sadness and loneliness and anger. But on Christmas day, spending it alone, I reflected and really missed their presence. I missed spending Christmas with those families. My families. All of them. I had traveled, and in my journeys I was able to remove the negative attachment to holidays by ignoring it. By overlapping it with experiences. It left a hole which my environment this year opened.
I could finally miss Christmas with family without feeling pain.
After watching the sunset, I went to the movies. Going to the movies on Christmas Day has been a tradition my brother and I have done over the years since our father passed. We haven’t been very close since, but we still had that. And going to the movies alone on Christmas Day comforted me. It made me miss that ritual.
While walking home at midnight I got to see Snapchats from another one of my families. Seeing their faces all together, with the newborn babe of one of the sisters, it made me wish I was there. It made me miss them. And messages from my aunt and brother made me miss those family dinners that we’d always have, even with my awkwardness. Even though I haven’t been great at being a part of anyone’s lives for years.
I had been so afraid of experiencing any kind of emotions on Christmas since losing my parents that I pushed out all of the joy from holidays. I disconnected. Just because holidays for years have been a painful thing, it doesn’t mean it has to be. It doesn’t mean I can’t be a part of another ritual or another family’s celebration. I can’t hold onto hate out of fear. And I shouldn’t hide or ignore the pain but deal with it. It ook years to stop living a life fully consumed by negativity, and spending Christmas alone this year made me take one more positive step. Allowed that hole to start to be filled. Allowed darker parts of my past to stop holding a place in my heart.
This year, spending Christmas alone made me truly cherish the ones that are in my life and do want me to be a part of their family traditions. Not to be afraid. To not just work on being happy 364 days of the year and dread another, but to lose the encumbering worries. Shed the weight of nostalgia, of the old wound that wouldn’t allow me to move on during Christmas time, or any holiday for that matter. To not think that showing emotions will bring about a catastrophe, but to be present. To be a part of new traditions and rituals, and to make new ones.
My ghosts of Christmas past will no longer haunt me.
<< Author’s Note >>
This is, by far, one of the longest entries on the blog. Though I wrote it as a memoir like the other’s I’ve shared in case you can relate or facing the same issues, I think I also needed to write this for myself. Even reflecting all day Christmas, I still had to put my thoughts out there and sort through it all. While writing the middle portion about Christmas as a child, most of it was done while going through a bottle of wine. I don’t drink often and Christmas Eve I did for the pain. The wine helped ease my nerves while writing, so I apologize for any mistakes. It was a raw all out writing fest to get this out of my system. Obviously, these topics are still hard to write about, and just one day of reflection won’t make ever issue I’ve had with the weight I associate with Christmas — but it did allow me to start facing it and actually realize that I already have a lot of happy moments attached to it. I just allowed painful memories to overshadow the good.
Have you ever experienced anything like this before?
Excitement. Fear. Elation. Anxiety. Euphoria. Hesitation. There are many words that can be used to describe the millions of emotions one experiences when traveling abroad for the first time, and when I first stepped foot into New Zealand — my first country ever, I experienced all of these and more.
[icon type=”angle-double-down”]I’ve already stated that stepping onto my Air New Zealand plane and flying to the other side of the world was the scariest moment of my life (not because of the Richard Simmons intro they have), but stepping off the plane onto foreign soil for the first time was a whole different bag of emotions. Even though it has now been 4 years since that day, and I’ve flown well over 50 times and traveled to 18 different countries, I still remember that moment vividly.
It sticks with you, the feelings when you first embark on this great adventure not knowing what will follow, or what you will do, or what the country and the trip will be like. There are those of you that have been traveling since you were that crying baby on the plane, and surely there are some people out there that can’t recall the time a country stole your passport’s virginity, but for me everything about life was in a little town with a little town mentality that never thought much about the outside world.
I gave no real thought to the rest of the world. I cut grass on weekends. I worked in a job I hated. I drank more than 3 people should nightly. I obsessed over fleeting hobbies that usually involved get-rich-quick schemes. I dwelled over the small issues, I tried to date everyone I could and then got over them within days, I loved to talk shit about other people and lived in a constant state of anger.
It wasn’t until I started reading travel blogs and flipping through inspirational quote pictures on Tumblr for hours a day that I began to believe there was a much bigger world out there. Ignorance made me think that other countries were only seen in movies and on TV, something of fantasy. Those people, like me, forever stayed in their country and in their home city. Until the passport came. It still seemed like a fantasy — the ability to go to another country, but it was fast becoming reality. A mysterious reality.
Beads of sweat crawled down my forehead as I crossed the gangway and into Auckland Airport from the intense nervousness that had made me gnaw off my fingernails, and probably because I was wearing a winter hat and it was summer in New Zealand. Summer! It was November and I had just left the nipply weather of Los Angeles and it was as if I landed in some mythical land where everything was opposite. It kinda’ was. However silly it is to read that one of my first emotions when I entered New Zealand the surprise that it was summer and not winter, I was then a person that thought getting a passport involved some impossible feat. Until I got one of course and realized it just involved a short trip to the post office. I laugh at things like this now, but it felt as if the plane ride was more like traveling to another planet and it blew me away that 12 hours could make the seasons flip.
As I crossed the gangway and saw the words “Kia Ora!“ upon entering the customs area glass labyrinth, I was filled with a rush of happiness. My stomach was tight and trembled, and I was trying to hold back from giggling. My skin tingles with a thousand needles and with this electricity coursing through my veins I couldn’t help but smile gigantically. I’m sure people hated me and were pushing to get by me as I stood in the way fumbling with my Lonely Planet guidebook, passport, and phone to try to take a photo. But dammit, I was going to take a photo of this sign and maybe everything else along the way. Right up until a security guard approached me and said, “Please keep moving and no photos in the customs area.”
I got a photo anyway. And managed to drop my iPhone and shatter the glass. Thanks security guard!
Making my way through the glass labyrinth and into the customs area, I had no clue what to expect. I had never gone through a customs before, but all I saw was the lot of us being herded into queues and fear knotted up into my throat. What did I think? That we were being queued up for slaughter or something? Either way, I found it suddenly hard to swallow and my hands were shaking. It was probably because I had made the mistake of watching that Kiwi show Border Patrol on YouTube before flying to New Zealand about the customs police catching smugglers. At the time I found it hilariously silly, but now I felt as though they would stop me for some reason and I’d end up in jail. Of course I wasn’t smuggling anything at all, but the fear was there.
Do I smile or not smile? What do I say? Do I make eye contact or avoid it. Did I mess up my declaration form? Should I say “Kia Ora” or “Hello“? Does my breath smell? And then I was before the customs guard. I looked down to make sure my feet were in the right place and the blonde female guard with a stern face called me forward.
“Passport?!” She called out half annoyed, and I fumbled to give it to her.
“Hi how are you?” I blurted out louder than I should have.
“Fine.” she said with a courteous smirk as she flipped through my pages.
“It’s my first time doing this” I said, and realized as my cheeks flushed how embarrassing of a statement that was, but it cracked her stone facade and she laughed softly.
“I can see that” she said, and then stamped me in. “Welcome to New Zealand Mr. Brown” she said with a smile, and handed me back my passport.
With my passport virginity taken by New Zealand and the blonde officer, I strode with awkward confidence through the gate.
I was past the gate and into New Zealand, but my confident stride stopped there. Where do I go now? There were signs pointing to go right and so I followed, but there were more queues and this time I had to choose. I ended up in the customs declaration line simply because I didn’t want to somehow get in trouble for leaving and accidentally not declaring anything. Then I realized I hadn’t even gone to get my backpack from the baggage carousel yet!
Either me turning around fast and walking away or blurting out “Oh fuck” must have caught the attention of the customs agents. I went to my baggage claim area and found my bag already on the ground, wrapped in plastic. That was strange. I didn’t before loading it on and I started to freak out a bit like it meant I was caught for something. As I tore away the plastic, two border patrol agents stepped over. “Need help with anything?” one asked.
“Uh, I just don’t know where to go after this” I said, secretly looking for TV show cameras nearby.
“Can I see your passport please?” the other asked, and my stomach dropped. I was in trouble for something.
“Do you have anything to declare in your bag” the one who wasn’t looking at the passport asked.
“Uh, maybe my goldfish?” I said
“Goldfish?!” he retorted, “You got live goldfish onto the plane?!”
“No officer, no, these crackers” I said, and pulled them out.
They both laughed. And I chuckled nervously. “First time eh?” the one with the passport stated as he saw my lonely New Zealand stamp there.
“Yes, first time outside the United States.”
“Just head to declaration and show your goldfish” A guard said with a smirk, and handed back my passport. My first time was fast becoming a joke, but I was just happy to move on.
Declarations did take away my beloved Goldfish crackers.
New Zealand was almost there. I conquered my fears and traveled abroad. I made it (awkwardly) through customs and had my passport stamped. All I had to do was leave the airport. And I hesitated. I hadn’t booked any hotels or hostels. I didn’t know anyone at all. I was afraid to speak to a stranger and ask for directions. All of these “what if” scenarios flooded my brain and made me hesitate. It was as if I thought some sort of ferocious beasts lay in wait for me ahead. I couldn’t connect to wifi so I couldn’t just use my phone to make decisions for me on what to do and where to go. And then I met Scott. He saw me standing there, frozen, when he approached.
“Hey man” he said with a California cool. I was hesitant to respond to him as well. Was he some slick scam artist? Did he want to rob me? But he seemed like a nice person, and though it was hard to drop my guard I did.
“You’re from America too aren’t ya?”
“Yeah, DC area but I just got in from LA.” I said.
“Me too, we must have been on the same plane.” he replied. “Where are you staying?”
“I have no clue at all” I said. And it was true. I may have stood there all day, but instead, he forced me from my hesitation and my comfort zone and we left the airport to both find some accommodation.
I felt the weight of fear and hesitation and confusion drift away.
Once I left the airport, I suddenly became curious about everything. It was a rush of excitement and eagerness to just wander and explore and find out more. Just to walk for hours and take everything in. New Zealand, especially Auckland, is a very easy city to have as your first because everyone speaks English and most things are familiar. But everything was still different in a sense. Scott fed that curiosity as well. He was someone who I wanted to be like. I didn’t want to be him, but he had an air of weightlessness about him when it came to talking to strangers and doing something without worrying too much and I wanted to be like that. Though I still had my worries in the back of my head, I was curious about things for once. Curious enough to take a chance even if the outcome could be bad.
That is what travel is and has become for me since; a curiosity, knowing that a decision could turn out bad, but it could also be the best decision ever. The only way to find out is to give into your curiosity and do it. If not, you’ll never know, and not knowing and not taking a chance is the worst thing you can do in life. Desiring to find out about cultures and people and curious enough to talk to strangers and make new friends.
Since that original trip, every new flight and new country bring a floods of emotions. Not like that first time though. These days, I pass through airports and land in another country and wonder “I’m already here?” because most of that has become automatic for me. I still get immensely excited in airports watching people coming and going and knowing I am too, but the procedural part of it is now automatic. But that first time flying to a foreign country at the age of 23 and only knowing a world that existed in a few states I had traveled to in the United States brought hundreds of emotions at once. Some of them made me second guess my decision, but most of them were overpowering in a positive way. Many of those emotions told me that because I was feeling these emotions, it meant that what I was doing was worth it. There wasn’t a numbness in my heart anymore, it was thudding rapidly with happiness and curiosity.
For those of you that haven’t been traveling and have always dreamed of hopping on a plane and seeing the world — there are plenty of emotions that will try to stop you from doing this. I felt these fears and anxieties and hesitations before my trip to New Zealand, and even afterward. Much of life for many of us, especially if you grew up in the United States, exists only there. And people in your life and societal norms will say that it’s crazy to quit your job and sell your things and pursue a passionate endeavor.
From 4 years traveling around the world since that first fateful day, I tell you to listen not to outside influences, but listen to your heart. There are many countries around the world that the people can’t travel or chase their dreams. Countries where people dream the same dreams as you, but it isn’t fear that holds them back from leaving, it’s poverty or inability to get visas or political instabilities or war.
It is our responsibility as a human beings with the ability and freedom to travel to face our fears. To get over comfort zones of not having secure jobs and not having a big screen TV or not having our Starbucks. To travel to feed our curiosities, which will be the best education you ever have just by gobbling up all observations and experience that come from travel. To travel for people who won’t ever have the chance to, and when you meet those people, to connect with them and share your culture. To share a smile and a meal. To share emotions. Because though you may have these emotions flood you when you begin traveling, in your travels you will see that this is what connects every human being on the planet. We all feel the same emotions and desire the same basic things in life.
It’s perfectly normal to experience all of these emotions when you first start traveling.
In the battle of hundreds of emotions when you first start traveling, once you conquer the conflicting ones and continue this amazing journey, you will then discover nothing divides the human race as a whole except the fear of the unknown — and it is the one thing that was holding you back from surpassing your boundaries as well. You will be a piece in the puzzle connecting the world by surpassing boundaries, on a map or of the mind.
What were some emotions you experienced when you first started traveling?
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