The Lost Boy has returned to California. A place that scares the hell out of me for many reasons. Why have I returned and what does it mean for travel? What does that mean for this blog?
If this was about halting my travels because I’ve returned to the United States, this may have been about trading sanity for safety. It’s not. This is about escaping my safety bubble on the east coast, one which I’ve always come back to after each trip, and setting up a new home base in California between adventures.
California and I have a history. Not a long one, but a storied one. And a helluva of a messy history. Don’t worry, you’ll get to the juicy part if you’re only here to read about disasters.
It had been 2 years since I visited my hometown, and the effect it has on me hasn’t changed. After thoroughly enjoying the holidays with friends and family, I experienced a downward turn in my mood and knew it was time for me to move on.
READ: Winter Blues
So I packed everything I owned in this trunk (yes, that is everything I own besides my normal travel packs below) and booked a last-minute flight to California on a whim. I needed to escape the east coast before I lost my mind. Back to a place I’ve been afraid to live in for a long time because of the epic failure was the first time.
The good side of California
I’m not talking about Compton vs. Beverly Hills, I’m talking about good and bad life experiences here. For the past 6-7 years of on and off travel, California has been my launching point for new adventures. It also has a dark period of my life attached to it prior to travel.
My first ever trip abroad, I took the train from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles and boarded an international flight for the first time.
Somehow I didn’t wee my pants from the sheer terror of it all.
That will forever be a moment that changed my life. Maybe I’m a creature of weird habit and that’s I keep coming back to fly from here.
California helped launch this whacky traveling-and-never-knowing-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-next lifestyle, chock full of moments of euphoric worldly glee blended with moments falling flat on my face.
But hey, that spices up life right?
Spices it up like those times you ask for farang level papaya salad in Thailand (meaning foreigner wussy spice level) and you bite into the hottest morsel ever crafted in the fires of Mordor. Then the cook laughs at you. Chya, surprise keeps you on your feet for sure.
We can’t all be like my oft travel companion Derek and eat lava hot curry and bull testicles.
The misadventures have been good times.
Those epic travel fails have given me a cache of hilarious misadventures to tell people at parties. While they laugh, I whimper inside remembering the horror of it all. Bus rides in India anyone? You know!
They are memories that make the adventure fun, even if you wonder how you survived.
California Round 2
The second time I stopped through California after an epic 4,000+ mile train journey across the good ole’ US of A. While in California for the week, friends and I road-tripped from San Diego to Los Angeles, camping along the way and visiting Salvation Mountain to leave a memory there for my parents. That’s when it hit me how beautiful and diverse California is, and I knew I wanted to see more.
Here I was on the cusp of my big trip to Thailand, and of course, I had not a clue what would happen. I was winging it and once again waving the United States goodbye from California.
During that trip in 2012 I was still a travel noob, but it was a turning point in my life after I nearly destroyed it with an alcohol flooded Voldemort-dark level depression that almost landed me in prison.
Travel gave me enough to look forward to so I could put the brakes on that downward spiral and it was time to give life another shot.
And California was a stepping stone for that big adventure.
What about before all of that good stuff?
I can hear your minds saying “you promised more juicy stuff!” and so far California has been just the place I’ve started gnarly adventures.
Let’s hop in a DeLorean and crank the time machine back to the early 2000’s.
The bad side of California (for me)
After my father passed away, everything in my life became a crumbling mess. For a long time, I lived under this fake happy façade, but I desperately needed change before I completely fell apart.
California had that promise of hope and good life and glittering unicorn dust sprinkled about like you see on TV. I’d move there, start a career in film, become a big name director, and BAM. Famous and happy.
I’d move there, start a career in film, become a big name director, and BAM. Famous and happy. California in my eyes seemed just as glamorous as the kiwi factory workers in New Zealand thought it is.
“Does bubble gum really grow on trees there? Is it just like Katy Perry shows in music videos?”
No, it isn’t. But I kinda sorta thought it’d be like that. And yes, that was a real question someone asked during my stint packing kiwi fruit. I hate kiwi fruit now.
It turned out that happiness doesn’t grow on non-native palm trees.
When I arrived in Los Angeles, my bank account was filled with a blood money inheritance that I despised so much to have, all I wanted was to spend it.
Traveling the world wasn’t a reality at that point, nor had it even crossed my mind, but looking back with rose-colored glasses I could have traveled the world for years on that.
Hindsight is a bitch for sure…
But we can’t dwell on the past because that’ll just end up being a tornado of chaos, I should know.
I’ve come to realize “what ifs” are worthless so we won’t go too much into that. I wanted to be someone else, or just be someone, and forget my whole past. Forget all of that pain and hate and longing.
When I was young, my school clothes were from the thrift shops and second-hand stores, and I hadn’t ever possessed more than $500 in the bank at one time. That’s before thrifting was cool. So you shouldn’t give an 18-year-old a pile of money after everything falls apart.
Instead of doing something positive with my father’s life insurance money (that nobody my age should receive, especially given my family was never well off) I drank it away.
I wanted to be someone else. I just wanted to be someone. I wanted to forget my whole past. Forget all of that pain and hate and longing. I needed to be someone and make it big and thumb my nose at the past.
Enter douchebag rhinestone Ryan.
Oh yeah, I had that phase. When I first arrived in California, I created a persona that I thought was a “cool” version of myself swathed in Ed Hardy crap and bedazzled tattoo hats that cost $200. I even had a mean Derek Zoolander blue steel face down to use in selfies.
Feel free to step away and barf if you need to, I already did. It pains me to look at.
Now back to our scheduled disaster story.
A year of self-destruction
What followed is a blurred year of debauchery at its worst and most expensive. I’d hit top bars in Hollywood only to wake up the next day not remembering what happened that night.
Before the days of Tinder, I’d try to meet people on Myspace or in bars by getting drunk to have enough confidence to talk to them. I’d try to hook up with someone who I’d probably not remember after, just so the loneliness would disappear for at least a few hours.
A few times I blacked out and woke up in handcuffs and was lucky enough to be let go. Once I even blacked out and woke to my friend shaking his car door handles at me. Apparently, I ripped off all of his car’s door handles with my bare hands and didn’t remember any of it.
Rinse in whiskey and repeat
When the blackouts weren’t enough, I began hitting the darker clubs; industrial and BDSM scenes became an everyday escape from the bottomless sadness I had yet to face. I could dress up in a costume, be someone different, be surrounded by pain, and live distracted. Plus, free drinks for being a promoter. Good times I don’t remember.
Deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole I went.
Eventually, even this too got old. And all the while I kept burning through the blood money. Some nights I’d lay awake past 4am, watching infomercials for pointless products or get rich schemes. Even though I had more money than I could ever make in a year, I obsessed overwith getting rich.
Rich people must be happy with all of that money, right?
I wasn’t happy just with what I had, even though I had spent most of my life without much. I needed more so I could spend more and keep getting that temporary dose of false happiness.
I bought into those house flipping schemes. I bought into the penny stock schemes. Dead sea face masks for $250? Don’t mind if I do, and never use it. Hell, I even bought a ShamWow. That’s how deep I went.
Then the Money ran out
I lived a year of fake lives and spent enormous amounts of cash on useless distraction and medication. For some reason, I even purchased a 1948 Ford thinking I’d be cool driving that around.
I still miss that beautiful thing, but it was a complete waste of $10,000 and I never once got to drive it.
I had multiple TV’s, projectors, a music editing rig for music I never created, expensive clothes that I looked stupid in, and a full year of not remembering most of it.
Bottom line is, I had so many things, but I didn’t have happiness. I was just consuming one temporary fix after the other.
When I spent almost all the money, I tucked tail feeling like a failure and returned to my hometown.
The entirety of that dream to make something of myself was a smoldering pile of shit with nothing to show for it except an increasing feeling of worthlessness and failure.
Slide in a couple of years of waiting tables and alcoholism in Washington DC and you have a picture of what followed my California dream, until my epiphany to travel the world.
Pretty crappy stuff I’d say.
Now can you see why California and I are like a sloppy drunken make out sesh at a party — one that you seem to recall was epic, but everyone else remembers that you were just the one who broke everything and threw up on the carpet.
California has scared me since
Since then, California has scared the [insert smiling poo emoji] out of me. I think you can get the gist of why I’ve been hesitant to spend more time in California, or even move here again. Even though growing up I felt as though I’d never amount to anything, I hadn’t felt like a failure until I lived in California.
I had declared to everyone that I was going to make the big move and would become something great. And I failed. My friends who had moved out west with me have been ever since and have made something for themselves. I’ve only been able to see it as a place to leave from, but not move to.
That’s why I’ve perpetually returned to Washington DC after each adventure — because it was safe. There wasn’t an enormous risk of failure, however unhappy I am when I return home that nostalgia haunted hometown.
After coming “home” this last time, I’ve realized I can no longer keep returning to that safe haven because it still hurts. It hurts so much. My mind seems clouded and I have no energy to do anything. I feel the sudden urge to distract myself and forget everything. To go out and drink it away. I’ve dealt with the hurt of the past, and I’m in a better state of mind, but that place still has fragments of nostalgic pangs.
It’s time to leave the safe haven behind.
Why am I back to California this time?
Seriously, after that crap show I just described, why would I ever want to return? And am I going to stop traveling now that I’m here?
I don’t think I can ever stop traveling, it’s a part of me now.
But I would like to create a base somewhere that, when I need to return, is a place I can be happy returning to. Given a crazy awesome but exhausting 2 years on the road on couches and sailboats and rickshaws, I want to slow down just a bit. Just for a little while.
How is California a place that I could even consider with that messy past?
Besides the lofty and false expectation I had of Los Angeles the first time, I’ve always felt I could see myself having a home base in California. The west coast, in general, has always had the vibe of an active and vibrant region that would supplement my soul’s desire for the outdoors between trips while allowing me to make waves in my creative endeavors.
And it has ample places to wander while not traveling.
I do have HEAPS of videos and stories to tell after 6+ years on the road, and having a base will finally allow me to get to work on them.
That’s the most important part, to be based in an area where I don’t feel like leaving every second of every day. So far, California has shown it can be that place.
It also helps that some of my great friends are based around California and are game for some quality adventure time given I have yet to explore much of the United States.
And I need adventure time while back in ‘Murica or I’ll go crazy.
What’s the plan?
Bahaha! Me, plan? If you know me from reading this blog, you know I don’t often have a plan. Ever. Sometimes that ends in disaster as I’ve mentioned before, but I have a better head on my shoulders this time and I work on keeping my depression at bay every day.
Sometimes the depression knocks ya’ across the head and it’s hard to defend against, but I work on it nowadays instead of trying to forget it.
For now, I am out in California looking for a place to create a base from so I can have my own space. Hostels just don’t cut it and have turned out to be the thorn in my foot for blogging. I’ve been driven bonkers by attempts to write or vlog from a 16-bed dorm and I’m over it.
Currently, some friends have been amazing enough to allow me to crash on their couch while I get settled in and look for an apartment and pursue some freelance assignments out here.
Lost in California
Each day, I’ve been lost around Los Angeles snapping photos and recording videos so I can keep at it. The goal is to keep creating and keep learning.
I’m thinking of posting small articles daily about things that catch my eye, just a tiny peek into Los Angeles and my life here as I try to make the most of it.
Full power 24 hour…for blogging.
Now that I feel my head space is getting back to normal and the creative juices are flowing, I’m back to writing daily and hoping to get this blog back to what it used to be with regular postings and more inspiration based around starting travels, pursuing creative endeavors as a lifestyle, and traveling with depression.
Finding creativity again
Daily writing is something I enjoy, but I just haven’t felt the energy of late, as you can see by the months in between posts. Now, I feel the mojo has returned, and I’m excited to share with you again all the good, bad, and crazy moments of travel.
I want to rebuild the trust with you all and get back to personal updates in the newsletter, and sending out postcards. And there’s that Rickshaw Run video series I promised to do and never had the time to. I’m sorry about that. I’m working on fulfilling that promise finally.
Oh, and FILM PHOTOGRAPHY!
Yep, I’ve just dived headfirst into film photography after picking up an old school Canon analog camera and I freakin’ love it.
Meet Benny, my film camera named after a character from The Boxcar Children that joins Fieval, my typewriter named after Fievel Goes West.
Hipster as hell, I know, but I love them. I’m a sucker for good nostalgia.
It’s been awesome going back to basics and actually seeing and feeling a photo and not just snapping a million at random. You may have seen some of my first rolls of film pop up on Instagram and Facebook, but keep an eye out on this blog for more.
I’m thinking about posting articles and videos based solely around film photography, some tutorials, and what I love about it — ya’ dig?
California dreaming, but still traveling
When I say I want to create a base, there’s always a chance tomorrow I’ll book a ticket and fly out somewhere. That’s just how my spirit is. Though 6-7 years of long-term travel with no base has definitely worn me out a little.
I dream of having a bed to return to and not a squeaky plastic wrapped mattress with 16 snoring backpackers.
It’s been a fun and interesting lifestyle bouncing from hostel to hostel, and I’m sure I’ll need to stay at one in the future. But dammit, sometimes I need my own little space!
Does it still frighten me?
Yes, I’m stressed when it comes to moving my base from the east coast to west without any promise that it’ll pan out. Even if I haven’t had a proper base anywhere in years.
Yes, I’m scared about being able to find enough work out here and to be able to afford it while saving for travels.
Yes, I’m nervous that setting up a new base will delay future adventures.
But I’ve grown to realize you can’t let fear rule your life when making moves that you feel are right.
You can’t swap safety and security over happiness just because it’s less risky, or else later in life, you’ll look back wishing you risked a little more to chase something you love.
You shouldn’t live with regrets, at least I don’t want to. Whichever way this pans out, I won’t regret giving it another shot.
As I focus on catching up with this blog, I’ll continue having smaller trips to close by countries or traveling around the United States and I’m pretty stoked to see my home country more. To get out into the wild west and Pacific Northwest for much-needed camping and hiking.
Though the adventures won’t be as random as they have been in the past, I will be able to tell more of the stories.
I hope you’ll continue to get lost with me.