Posts tagged Memoir

The First Bite of Winter Depression Blues

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.

  • A photo close-up of frozen pine tree branches. Photo taken with Canon Rebel 650D T4i, edited in Lightroom using VSCO Film Pack 06.
  • Photo holding a frozen pine cone on a cold winter day with fingerless gloves.

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.

Why I suddenly returned to the US early after 8 months of travel.

Photo Jul 17, 3 30 37 PM

It was a strange feeling sitting atop the jagged rocks in Great Falls National Park — fighting for breath after running and jumping and climbing through the Billy Goat Trail. I was beside one of my best friends and we had just scaled a rock face 20 meters high. We were exhausted. Sprawled out and catching our breaths, we looked out over the river below; at some points it was rabid, frothing and surging through the gorge, and others it was calm and flowing gently. The water from millions of years ago in the ice age had carved its path through solid rock, little by little. Now it was following a path, sometimes calm and other times ferocious, that it had created against an otherwise opposing element.

A path it had created little by little.

I sat there thinking about all that I had done the past 8 months abroad, all of the places I had seen, all of the amazing people I had met, and all of the experiences I had. Also on my mind was the path that led to my unplanned return to the United States. My mind rewound through it all during that short rest.

Two days ago I had arrived back in Maryland after taking a 15-hour long bus ride from Toronto.

A week before, I had taken a flight from Munich to Madrid where I stayed overnight, and then flew Madrid to London, and London to Toronto over the course of 24-hours.

Two weeks before, I had taken a train from Rome to Munich where I spent my last week in Europe where I had decided to ultimately return.

A month before, I was just beginning to travel around Italy.

Two months before Italy, I had arrived in Europe after being forced to make the decision to leave Thailand just as I was about to begin teaching English.

And it was a little more than 8 months from this very date that I had taken a 7-day train journey across the United States, DC to Los Angeles, and flown out to Thailand to teach English.

Somehow it seemed so long ago, yet at the same time still raw in my mind. Not nostalgia, because it wasn’t a stinging pain that hit me thinking about an adventure coming to an end.

 

So why is it that I’ve found myself back in the United States?

There were many things that contributed to my early return:  a lot of cause and effect that factored in, a lot of missteps on the road and mistakes made, and many things that I hadn’t planned for that I should have.

The main reason comes down to money. I had almost completely run out of money after returning to Italy for the second time.

When I first left Thailand I had a vague idea of what I would do next, and even less of an idea of what to expect in Europe. I wasn’t headed back to Thailand any time soon, and though I thought about teaching English in another Southeast Asian country, I had a friend’s wedding to attend in two weeks in Slovakia. I figured I’d find a cheap place in Europe to lay low, somewhere in Eastern Europe that wouldn’t rock my dwindling budget that was causing me a slight bit of angst. I knew nothing at all about Europe in terms of travel; it was a new and unknown place and one I had dreamed about seeing as a little boy.

Sometimes the world steers you in different directions, ones completely opposite than what you had planned. It turned out that the cheapest last-minute flight into Europe from Thailand was Rome. Sure, Rome wasn’t the main destination in Europe I was headed for, and it damn well wouldn’t be the cheapest, but excitement filled me. I was veering off from my original plan and leaving Southeast Asia and I didn’t know what would happen next. Italy was always the country I wanted to visit the most. I would go to Italy.

Teaching English

(Teacher Ryan in Thailand)

 

When I arrived in Rome, I immediately began on the wrong foot.

As is my normal travel behavior, I didn’t plan a single bit for Europe. I would just roll with it and figure it out as I went along. Immediately I was gobbled up by the new surroundings and spat out. The first few hours were filled with self-induced misery as I wandered lost about lost in the Eternal City since I hadn’t pre-booked a hostel, my electronics were dead, and I had no clue where to look for accommodation. Oh, and that I had lost my adapter in route from Thailand to Italy. So, besides nobody around the city knowing where a hostel was, I couldn’t charge my electronics to search for one.

 

Then the shock of the Euro slapped me.

You cannot compare Italy to Thailand at all. Just don’t. Well, maybe with the insane drivers and the bum-guns on toilets, but price wise it is drastically different.  Right away I could see my wallet weeping as the cheapest hostel I could find was 30 Euro a night. That cheap flight to Rome would be outweighed by the prices to stay there. I kept trying to tell myself that I shouldn’t compare prices, but I couldn’t help but think about how I was paying $3 USD a night in Thailand. Even trying to eat cheap I was spending well over 50 Euro a day with hostel and food.

I was freaking out a little.

But I told myself it would be fine. I’d enjoy being in the city I always dreamed about visiting, and in a week I’d head over to Slovakia and spend much less.  And I did. I visited the ancient Roman sights, explored the Colosseum, and wandered the city for hours in the day.

Except I left Thailand with $2,000 left which was my budget for 4 more months at least, but within a week in Rome I spent nearly a quarter of that in accommodation and food.

Instead of heading directly to Slovakia, I took a flight to Prague and met up with a friend from the US who had been traveling with me in Thailand. We hung out and explored Prague for around a week until heading to Slovakia after enjoying the gloriously cheap food, beer, and accommodation in Prague.

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(exploring the Colosseum of Rome, and super giddy)

 

Fast travel makes a slow traveler panic.

At least, it makes me freak out a bit when I didn’t know what to do next, and I’m one to usually call myself chill about most situations. But, I’m usually quite the slow traveler. Spending months on end in another country is what I like to do, and it isn’t often I bounce around from country to country every week. And after going from Rome, to Prague, and then to Bratislava, I could feel a slight anxiousness settling in. I was pin-balling from one country to the next without a plan, and that turned out to be more expensive in doing so. I had no clue what to do, and I was watching my budget sink from a comfortable $2,000 to below $1,000. When we arrived in Bratislava, we were both shocked at how expensive the country was. Hostels were on average 20 Euro, and food was comparable to Italy in price. Both of us were low on money, and had to think of how to last it out until the wedding.

We went to Hungary for a few days since I had found a few hostels that were advertised for 6 Euro a night. A bus ticket to Budapest and sleeping in those hostels, and then busing back, would be cheaper than staying in Bratislava. But when we arrived in Budapest, these cheap hotels seemed mythical. They didn’t exist. The only ones we could find wanted 20 Euro, so we were again in the same predicament.

In a predicament, but still in Europe, and still exploring as much as our broke asses could.

 

This is when the bread eating began.

We did eventually find one of those cheap hostels in Budapest, but they are so hidden and usually tucked into an apartment complex with no sign that it was only within the last few days we discovered one. They do exist! But it was too late. We both had been eating cheap rolls of bread and only drinking water since we both couldn’t afford much else. Though my friend had already planned on returning to the US after the wedding, I was hoping to keep the adventure going afterwards and find a place to base myself to keep traveling.

Though staying in Europe or continuing traveling was fast becoming unlikely.

I was getting extremely low on funds and I didn’t even have a ticket back to the US even if I did run out of money. I attended the wedding, and went back to Prague since it had been the cheapest destination I had visited in that part of Europe to come up with some sort of emergency plan to keep going.

invisible hostel sign

(one of the “signs” for the hostels, painted on the ground where we didn’t look)

 

There was a back-up plan. Though not a great one.

Just before leaving Thailand, I had announced that I was brought on by a popular travel booking company to be a content writer. It was, and still is, a sweet gig with a high pay-per-word rate and a promise of a long-term writing contract. I assumed that this would be the ticket to traveling long-term around Europe and offer me a bit of padding while I figured things out. Well, I had fully banked on this, but it would turn out to be a bad gamble. Not bad at all because of the company, but because I was relying on a job that was just starting, and if you are a freelance contractor, you know it doesn’t happen quickly. And I had naively thought it’d be instant return.

Since they are a major travel company, I hadn’t realized I would need to be added to a payroll and file taxes in the US, which means payout wouldn’t be as soon as I wanted

*I still write for them and love it, and it was silly of me at the time to think I could just hope for them to pay me a huge amount after only a couple of weeks on board.*

 

What was I to do when faced with no money left?

While I was in Rome the first time, I had attended a few Walks of Italy tours around the city where I had met a guide who was setting up her own travel blog tour in Italy, and she had invited me to attend one in June. I promised her that I would attend, it seemed like an amazing opportunity to explore more of Italy. Yet, here I was in Prague, broke, and I had to figure out a way back to Rome while only having around $200 left. Once on the trip, most of the expenses would be included, so I gambled again. I told myself that if I could make it to Rome and get on this trip, I should have my paycheck by then. And after, I could decide better how to make my next move.

I used $175 of my remaining budget for a flight to Rome, and used my last bit of money to book a hostel. For a day and half my only food was a sole banana.

 

Finally I could eat again.

For that week and half before returning to Rome, I had been living on bread rolls and ketchup (for flavor) and stayed cooped up in hostels since I had no money. I had already explored every inch of Prague and most parts of Rome that I could walk to, so I just waited it out until the blog trip. I couldn’t even afford a coffee so I could go to a café and write. And cafés are my creative zones. To be honest, I felt a bit trapped leading up to it. But the day came where I linked up with the group of other bloggers to kickstart our gnarly #ThisIsYourTime blog tour of Umbria and Ponza. I was stoked. If I had to leave Italy without actually exploring other parts of the country, I would have been super bummed.

To say I gorged might be an understatement. We were in red wine country and I drank my weight in wine from vineyards like Fontanaro Farms and stuffed myself full of pasta and meats. Sometimes people would comment with something around the lines of, “Wow, you must love to eat!” and my response would be to smirk through my bulging cheeks and declare, “You never know when you’ll be living on bread and ketchup!

South of Rome we visited Ponza Island where Prosecco flowed like water and I ate some of the most delicious seafood of my life. I was again in the company of amazing people, tasting the flavors of a country and of the sea, and sleeping in comfort knowing I had a bed for the night.

Me in Ponza, Italy

(cheesing in Ponza, and happy to have food again!)

 

Of course it wouldn’t last. It couldn’t last.

The blog tour had been an amazing 10 days, and during that time my worries had faded and I was enjoying the experiences to the fullest. What else should you do in that case of course? I had to soak it up baby! But once it was over, I was back in the same position. I had no money and I was in Rome, the most expensive place I had traveled thus far. Linnea, our amazing blog tour guide and now a person I am happy to call friend, had a boyfriend on the tour that was equally an amazing person. Knowing my situation, he offered me to stay in a tiny loft above a theatre he owned in the heart of Rome. It would save me from finding a quiet alleyway to sleep every night, and would give me time and a bit less pressure off my shoulders to figure out my next move.

Again I was eating bread and ketchup to save the bit of cash I had. Some family sent a bit of money at random to which, they may not have known, helped me eat for the day. And allowed it to not be just bread once or twice a day.

Campo Dalto Picadillo Theater I slept above.

(my little theater window)

 

This was the moment where I began to think that I might have to return back to the United States.

However much I wanted to try to keep traveling, and however much I stubbornly didn’t want to return earlier than I had intended, I had to consider my position. I had little to no money and no income at the moment. Living on a tight budget is not at all a difficult thing for me. Though I love eating the dishes of all the countries I visit and exploring, I also have no problem surviving on instant noodles and toast and exploring. But when you have no budget at all, when you are completely bottomed out, and you know that bread roll is what you’ll eat for the day because you can’t afford something else, it saps a lot of the fun out of the experience.

Some people can do that, and I definitely have been down that road in New Zealand where I slept in my hammock above Wellington and nibbled on what I could afford because I was out of money. Even though bits of that were wonderful, like waking up in the woods everyday to the sun rising over the city, most aspects of being forced into that position weren’t pleasant.

I sat each day atop that theater looking out of my small window watching people wander around, and each night watching groups heading to go grab a drink or a bite to eat. It was an absolutely romantic scenario living above a theater in the heart of Rome, but I still felt trapped. If I wandered around and met new friends, I couldn’t do anything they would be doing around town. I couldn’t explore parts of Rome I hadn’t seen since I couldn’t afford the subway. And I couldn’t relax in a café in the city while I wrote.

Even though there was a play every night in the theater I lived in about a brothel romance with ladies in lingerie strutting around.

Yes, the theater came with lingerie clad ladies...

(why yes the theater came lingerie ladies & nightly plays about a romance in a brothel)

 

That’s when I decided it was my time to head back to the United States.

If I was going to explore more of Europe, I wanted to have a budget that would allow me to do even the most minimal things around the city. Some opportunities presented themselves for possible work, and working in Rome would be a dream come true, but I had already used up 2 months of my allotted time in the Schengen Zone and I would have to leave soon anyway.

Now it was time to figure out how the hell to get back to the United States. During that last week in Rome I finally received a chunk of my pay from my freelance contract, but it still wouldn’t be enough to pay for a last-minute flight back. A friend I had met while traveling in Thailand invited me to come visit them in Munich, and after realizing flights were drastically cheaper from there to the US, I said farewell to my friends in Rome and took a train to Munich.

During the week spent in Germany, I sucked up my pride and asked friends back home if they could help spare a little cash for the difference I needed for a flight. I knew that in Washington DC I had friends I could stay with and that I could have two jobs in a jiffy, so that would be the plan. Return, work my ass off again, save money, leave.

And after three flights in 24-hours and a 15-hour bus ride, I was back in Washington DC. I was somewhere I never thought I’d see myself again that soon.

But, I also had never thought I’d see myself living in Thailand or exploring Europe either.

We are dreamers too

(at the John Lennon wall in Prague)

 

So, was running out of money all a mistake?

Or going to Europe a mistake?

The thought of course had crossed my mind a few times. I could have planned better, or come up with one that would have allowed me to stay abroad. There are times when my thoughts about this beat me up, and that I feel bummed about returning to the US. Maybe I should have gone back to Southeast Asia to teach English. Sometimes I think “dammit, I could have saved money better here by not doing this” or “if only I would have done this than I’d still be traveling.”

Then I have to shake that bad mojo off. I left what-ifs and I-could-haves behind, they are all useless thoughts.

This is the essence of travel. This is what makes it exciting and demanding and difficult. And ultimately, why traveling is so rewarding. If it were easy and everything was laid out before you, then the soul of the adventure wouldn’t be there. Was it all for naught? Absolutely not. Are there things I would do differently? Yes.

Lessons on the road are the best lessons learned, because it is a trial by fire. They are situations you may never find yourself in at home, and whether it be figuring out how to save money for something special you want to do, or budgeting just so you can make it to the next destination. Traveling the past couple of years after leaving the United States for the first time taught me to open up my mind to the possibilities that are out there once you begin to look for, and follow your dream.

I gained knowledge and important lessons about Southeast Asia and Europe that couldn’t have been read in a book. And being quite new to travel, each lesson will make the next trip better.

Mistakes quote by Oscar Wilde

(looking out over Loh Dalum Bay in Thailand)

 

This trip also showed me another key piece to my life.

When I began traveling just a mere 3 years ago by going to New Zealand, my heart and mind were filled with sudden possibility and inspiration. But my heart was also still filled with things that always held me back. Though that first trip was life-changing, it had also been used as an escape from something I was running from most of my life — however much I told myself I wasn’t running.

When I had to leave New Zealand after 9 months of traveling the country because I was out of money, I berated myself for failing. I had told everyone that I was going to travel for a year or two, and I snubbed my nose at my brother after he had disowned me for wanting to travel. I would prove the world and my brother and society’s demands that I was better than it all and could chase my dream. In that sense, my dream became about other people and other things, it was no longer in pursuit of my own happiness. When I returned early from New Zealand, I faked that it was no big deal, but inside I was crushed. I had felt like I failed at pursuing my dream. And worst of all, I was thinking about how I had set out to prove others wrong and failed.

By being consumed by this fear of failure, something I always struggled with growing up, it had taken the true meaning of my dream and replaced it with self-loathing. The fact that I had traveling nearly across the world, and the fact that I was the first in my family to leave the US, and the fact that I did it for 9 months — that all didn’t matter. I had failed at something I set out to do. I had failed at my dream.

As was one of the first articles to be published on this blog when I began it again last year, I shared how this exact mentality and demoralizing view of my own self drove me into a dark place, a place filled with depression and monster that I had hidden away. It was a place where self-worth did not exist, just personal demons I created and that I succumbed to. During this period, things I had never dealt with — the deaths of my parents, the feeling that I would never be good enough, and the feeling that I had failed myself — it brought me into an abyss where the choice of living or dying was the only thing left.

When I shared the affects of keeping this all hidden in far corners of my mind since I was a child, it was after a time when I had hit the lowest point in my life. My drinking had gone beyond bad. I felt worthless and ashamed. And I was also facing a possible jail sentence because I had been drunk and broken into a house, one which I thought was mine that I had simply and drunkenly locked myself out of.

After months of facing the consequences of those actions, and looking at the internal monsters for the first time that manifested, I knew I had to make that decision to live and change, or else end up dead. There was a choice to be made, a choice that could only be made by me and carried out. The day I walked from the courtroom found not guilty, I vowed to live my life for myself and do whatever possible to chase my dream. A vow I had said before when leaving for Thailand, but one I had said while still holding onto things from my past.

Quote about failure

(standing atop a temple in Angkor Wat)

 

The significance of this trip was that, this time, I don’t feel like a failure.

Months before I had even began planning my trip to Thailand, I began to share personal memoirs about those struggles I had faced, and some of the most personal events from my childhood that had haunted me for years. That had led me to that dark place. By sharing the stories, it was almost like self-counseling. I finally revealed to myself the things I never could face before, and it helped me discover clarity and strength.

Sure, before I left I had told people that I wanted to travel for a year, teaching in Thailand, and then maybe moving on to explore other parts of the world. It was a rough plan, and though teaching in Thailand was a main goal of mine, everything was truly up in the air. I was just ready for another adventure. Even with my trip only lasting 8 months when I wanted to travel for a year or more, it was still 8 months abroad. I still lived for 8 months in other countries. I was able to experience multiple cultures and make friends from all over the world and share experiences and laughter with them.

I was pursuing my dream. I still am pursuing my dream. Because a dream isn’t a destination or a finish line, it is the journey of the body and mind and heart and soul in pursuit of what makes you happy. In pursuit of what you love. It is something that, if you are truly chasing, you can never fail by not reaching some peak or apex, since the glory of a dream is never-ending. You can only fail if you choose not to follow it.

And this is why returning. Though it is something I didn’t think to do this early, it wasn’t something I am going to let bring me down this time. The choice was made by myself to return, and though eating bread and ketchup everyday could have helped with that decision, I know that I will make my time back in the States another piece of the adventure. A catalyst for continuing my dream.

Photo May 07, 7 56 03 PM

What comes next in the journey?

Well, I’ve come back “home” as I can say, though I know that even if I grew up in Maryland, my home is somewhere else out there. It’s in the wind and the mountains and the forests and the road and everywhere else. Fernweh, that longing for a place I’ve never been still holds on tight. So my goal (which I don’t often set goals unless relating to travel) is to work and save and travel again soon.

To be honest, I am also very excited to be back for fall in the Untied States. Autumn in the US has always been magical for me — Halloween is my favorite holiday, pumpkin flavored everything is my obsession, and the beauty of the changing leaves. And since I will be in the US for a bit, I’ve been considering going much more in-depth about travel around the US and places I’ve been. This is the perfect time to add this aspect to the blog, and maybe a perfect time to become a tourist of my own home country.

Everyday is a journey

 

Where might I be looking to go next?

Since I had always wanted to visit Europe, the good thing about traveling there and spending two months hopping around different countries is that it gave me a sample. A tantalizing taste. Of course I want more. And it also clued me in on what to expect and what to plan for when I do save specifically to travel Europe. So that is an option, but there are many others. Each time I embark to a new countries, my mind changes and grows and evolves, and I discovers different possibilities that suddenly change my desire or course.

Maybe I’ll want to return to Southeast Asia and explore and teach in Vietnam or another country. I also will be researching what it takes to stay longer in Europe without having the 3-month cap to worry about. Also, I’ve always wanted to explore Central America and South America, and Africa. Hell, I want to see it all!

During my time back I’ll be doing exactly that: deciding where to go on the next trip. I’d like to give myself 6 months to save up, so I’ll be working hard to accomplish this. I’ve already had two interviews at previous jobs, and this month my freelance writing contract should finally have the kinks ironed out.

There is also the idea of moving to New Orleans after fall when it cools down and the festivals take over. New Orleans is one of my favorite places in the world, and I’ve been wanting to spend a few months living in that city for a while. It’ll be crazy busy and should be a great place to make some money.

Travel quote by Robert Louis Stevenson

 

All of this did, in fact, pass through my head during that brief rest in Great Falls.

Not nostalgia at all, but a pang inside my spirit of a sudden excitement — the excitement of a new adventure and continuing the chase.

We had been scrambling up fissures in the stone formations, leaping over moss-covered logs, bounding off angled boulders from one to the other, scaling sheer rock-faces, swinging from branches, and running full sprint while dodging sharp outcroppings. We were hot and tired and slightly cut up, but invigorated. We had been running free for the sake of the spirit and for the challenge. We were creating a path where no path existed. Sometimes head-on, and sometimes with caution.

We were creating our own path in that forest and in the gorge even though obstacles stood in our way. Yes, it felt strange being in Maryland again and sitting atop the high jagged rocks, but as the water below us flowed forward, and the breath came back to my lungs, and the memories raced through my mind, I knew one thing for sure — little by little I would keep carving out my own path.

Though the adventure seemed to end, it hadn’t. It never does if you don’t let it. Step by step, little by little, I will keep pushing forward.

Here is to today, and the adventure it holds wherever I find myself, and wherever you find yourselves chasing your own dream every today following.

dream on

If you also want to check out another article by a travel friend, Flora of Flora the Explorer Blog, it shows another perspective as she suddenly is returning home after traveling 3 years. Read: After two years of travel I am returning to London

 

Arriving in Rome: Was my childhood dream fulfilled?

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And so the lost boy arrived in the Eternal City. But I hadn’t actually arrived yet. Having an aisle seat made me envious of the red-shirted woman with the views out the window. But the worst part of that envy wasn’t because her face was smushed against the window and she was wide-eyed at the Italian landscape below — it was because that woman was dead asleep as we began our descent. Oh how I was tempted to just lean right over her to peer out the window. But I suspected that if she were to suddenly wake up, I might appear to be sneaking a smooch instead of my simple desire to see Italy unfold below.

She’d be wrong though, I’m not quite into stealing a secret kiss from a drooling elderly woman with a slight mustache and a snore worse than mine.

We arrived on a reasonably smooth landing, with only a few jolts and shakes exciting my fear of flying before screeching onto the landing strip. After that mad rush subsided that happens when all flights come to an end and people scramble for their luggage, I was waddling with my bags toward the exit door.

Finally, I was staring out at a land (which arguably didn’t look different from most airports) that I had waited all of my life to see. I took a deep breath, my nostrils full flare and filling up my lungs with as much of the brisk Roman air as I could take in. It smelled more like burning rubber and jet fuel than fresh air, but it was still marvelous. Then I realized I was causing an annoying jam while exiting the plane, so I continued on waddling down the stairs. Though there was a slight anxiousness in me that I couldn’t explain. Stark shadows of our figures cast long across the tarmac from the early morning sun just beginning to peak over the Roman umbrella pines in the distance.

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I stopped into a bathroom once inside the Fuimicino airport terminal to change out of my spiffy clothes and throw on something much more normal for me (leather jacket, jeans, boots). Reading about a trick online that says it’s possible to get upgraded to first class if you dress nicely, I decided to give it a shot when checking into the airport in Bangkok before leaving for Rome.

 

Did the dress-nice-for-an-upgrade trick work?

 

Well, with a button up shirt on, a vest, dress pants, and schnazzy shoes, I approached the Sri Lanka air counter with confidence.

At first it didn’t seem like I was making any leeway with the girl at the counter. I was smiling. I complimented her. I asked her how her day was going. But all I received in return was business attitude. She went through the standard routine of asking me for my passport and credit card. She really didn’t even look up at me after the initial greeting I received. But, after putting my backpack on the weighing machine and cracking a few jokes, the barrier broke down finally.

You look like a rock star.” she said and smiled.

I laughed, “I get that a lot.

Are you in a band” she asked.

No, just a writer

Oh wow, so you have a book or something?” she asked.

Not yet, but I write a blog though

Maybe I can read it sometime” she said.

So, of course feeling like a cool cat, I pulled out my wallet and I passed her my blog business card.

This is my website if you want to read it

Okay I will. By the way, I moved you to seat 20H” she responded and flashed a smile.

With a thank you I walked away — a small bounce now in my stride. I had no clue what my seat was changed to, but she told me she had changed it. Could it be to first class? I’d only know when I boarded the plane.

 

Ultimately, it was not first class.

 

It was an aisle seat that allows you to just peek past the curtain and see the happy people donning suits in first class. I wondered whether first class seats while wearing dress pants gives you less of a wedgie.

Mextures

So, either this was a failure at the attempt at an upgrade, or a victory. Though I was teased by seeing the “greener grass” ahead of me in first class the whole flight — she had also placed me in an exit row which gave me more space to stretch out my legs than I’ve ever had on a prior flight. And there was nobody in front of me to flop backward and crush my laptop.

After I was out of my stuffy suit I headed eagerly for the train that would take me into the heart of Rome. A great big green and white and red colored beast huffed and puffed on the platform waiting to take people into the city center. I nearly missed the train as I stood in front of a door waiting for it to open sesame, until someone pushed past me and pressed the button on the door to enter.

 

I would have totally missed that train otherwise.

 

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We pulled out into the rural Roman countryside. Small farms and more Dr. Seuss-esque “truffula” pines flashed by while the occasional graffiti that was rebelling against the bland concrete buildings it was sprayed on broke up the views. An Italian flag flapped in the wind , except unlike the American flag in the United States, it would be the first and the last I saw that day.

As I sat on a fold-down seat by one of the doors, I scribbled observations in my leather journal. One observation was someone who I deemed The Man with Overblown Expectations. It can get exhausting having expectations about places you visit. Sometimes a city or a country can exceed expectations, and sometimes the expectations are crushed by disappointment. So I try not to have expectations, just an excitement from the mystery of a new and unknown place.

This is why I don’t read guide books about places I visit. It sets expectations for the place to be sunny and beautiful and that going there will be flawless. That isn’t really how travel is. So, instead, I wait until I arrive to really begin the experience, and whether or not it is good or bad, it isn’t influenced by an outside force. Usually at least.

Standing over me was The Man with the Overblown Expectations; flowy white buzzed hair, bushy eye-brows, tan pressed slacks and a golf shirt, giant Nascar-like glasses dominating he face. He had a gold watch on, alligator skin shoes with little gold plates on them. He looked uncomfortable standing in the crowd of strangers on the train. He had tucked himself into the corner near the doorway and strategically place his absurdly large rolling luggage as a barricade between himself and the rest of the car. His wife sat on her luggage with what seemed to be a permanent frown that had hardened over some years.

Gardens. Gardens everywhere you look. Do you see these gardens?

The train was now passing by older apartment complexes or smaller houses alongside the tracks that had little patches of flowers or vegetables sprouting in their back yards.

Gardens. Do you see these?” he asked his wife.

Gardens, yes, I see them” she said without looking, and obviously not as amused as him.

We finally made it to Rome” He said with excitement.

It seems those small and not-so-Roman gardens had triggered it. And it made me glad I had not waited until I was much older to visit, even though I most likely had 1% of his budget to explore with.

I was excited as well, but peering out at that window I was observing something much different.

Life; the beauty and the bad. It seemed as though he was blind to this. Blinded by his expectations I believe. Everything had to be the way he imagined it to be. And however cookie-cutter perfect that may sound, that can take away from the unexpected joys and surprises. He refused to see anything in the landscape other than what he wanted, which I think takes away from the actual soul and life of a place. Its reality.

We passed through an area now lined with small tin-roofed shacks close to the train tracks; half rusted or half collapsing but fully occupied. Stained and tattered clothing hung on the clothes lines outside. Rusted bicycles lay unused and overgrown with weeds. Trash strewn across their yard which was a 5×5 patch of dirt surrounded by a chain-link fence and barbed wire. I guess there wasn’t much neighborly love there. The tin shacks were half hidden by infertile corn stalks growing all around them.

Oooh! Little balconies! Look honey, everyone has little balconies!” He said.

Apartment complexes with exteriors of faded paint rose up beyond the tin shacks which were hidden from view, except by a passing train like ours. They did have balconies, but had nothing distinctly Roman about them. Nothing out of the ordinary. The area more resembled pulling into Bangkok train station which had the same tin shacks lining the sides of the tracks with the dated high-rises behind.

Balconies…wow. Beautiful” the man said under his breath.

The train screeched to a halt into the Roma Trastevere station. The station was shaded by a massive metal awning; pieces of the cracked and aged black paint has chipped away to show the rust beneath. The wrought-iron construct was adorned with twisted metal, spiral designs, and intricate hammered iron leaves — beautiful in its day surely, and beautiful in its decay still.

The Man with the Overblown Expectations seemed to quiet after a while as his wife was ignoring him and wearing her seemingly standard frown. But he still would whisper to himself in amazement at the cute hanging laundry and balconies. He didn’t ever mention the graffiti, or the people living on the side of the tracks, or how this landscape had shown centuries of the numerous rises and falls of this region.

 

After all, Rome is one of the most war-torn cities of the past 2,000 years.

 

We left the station and passed more embankments covered with the same infertile cornstalks like the ones that had hidden the tin houses before. Not producing anything, yet still growing. It made me think about how this region may have been a vast farmland in ancient Rome before the urban decay that has sprouted up all around.

 

It reminded me of when I was a little boy and would help my mother with the gardening.

 

We used to grow corn in a small patch of flat land at the bottom of a hill in our yard, and I used to help my mother tend to them. More like I would sneak newly ripened cherry tomatoes into my mouth. Over time after my parents split up, nobody planted anything there. Weeds grew, but still even without care those corn stalks sprouted each year to the dismay of my father. But infertile still, the only thing they could bear was the memories of a time past just like these alongside the tracks.

It began to seem as though we were passing through different decades as the train continued to close in on Rome. Through the 1920’s to the 1980’s, buildings with distinct styles for their era rose up around us. Some with the pre-war pastels, some with the cold-war staunchness.

We had been leaping forward through decades shown in a timeline of aging apartment complexes, and then history unraveled before me and we plunged back centuries.

Above us towered an ancient aqueduct, the first of its kind I had ever seen. Bricks nearly a third of the thickness used in modern construction, stacked perfectly upon each other and held together with mortar to a height above most buildings in the surrounding area.

We passed under one of the archways holding up this aqueduct and I marveled at how old the structure was, yet how dominating it was to the modern buildings around. That arch towering above was our gateway to the Eternal City as we crept into the Termini station.

Though I had stifled my expectations that had been building up since I was a very young boy, I couldn’t help but secretly hope that it was just as the books had made it look when I flipped through them at age 8.

Years and years of wandering the history sections of libraries and always finding myself pausing at the books about Rome. Years of hearing stories about Italy from other people who had visiting and thinking of Rome as a fantasy place. Something only in imagination and on pages. Years of that feeling of fernweh, the longing for a place I had never been.

Even though the train had just pulled into the city, the sight of that ancient aqueduct made it unbearable to hold back the excitement. I had a big ole’ cheesy smile on my face.

No longer was it just for books and stories and photos, for I had arrived in the Eternal City.

*The next part of my Rome series will be landing soon, so make sure to keep stopping by, or sign up for my weekly newsletter!*

How was it when you first came to the place you always dreamed of? Did it live up to your expectations, or like me, did you try not to have expectations? Share your story and your place of your dreams below!

 

A dwindling travel budget and fear of failure.

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Something haunts me as the thunder rumbles deep outside. Lightning streaks across the sky every so often, white-washing the rolling grey clouds like the flash of a camera. The pouring rains rat-ta-tat-tats on the rooftop and weeps down the window front — headlights and tail lights from passing traffic shimmer across that waterfall before me, creating a kaleidoscope-like obscura.

Something else, less literal, hangs dark and foreboding above my head. A cloud looms over me, darkening my mood. It is fear. A creeping fear. The type of fear that waits for the right moment to drill into your brain and tighten more and more. Each time it tightens on your mind, it strips away confidence and positive thinking and replaces with the soul-destroying “what ifs” that fester in the darkest parts of your mind.

Things that you subconsciously create to hold you back.

That fear has caused me to gnaw off my fingernails, and to lay awake at night trying to find distraction from swimming in this melancholy the past few days. Struggling to keep my head above the waters so not to drown in despair.

It is the sudden fear of a dwindling budget.

And I am sure many travelers at some point during their journeys finds themselves looking up above to see that darkness following them. That pressure weighing down on you.

When I first left the United States again to embark on this new and exciting road, I knew what mistakes I had made in the past that cut my trip short.

My year-long escape in New Zealand was cut short when I found myself dumbfounded that my bank account showed $25 as my balance. I had completely run out of money without even realizing it and didn’t even have a flight booked home. Luckily I was able to use $20 of that for a bus ticket to a kiwi picking town in the south, as well as charity from family and friends to keep me afloat until I got a paycheck. After a few months of working in a factory 13 hours a day, I had saved up a little money, and with that I decided to return home and reset. Return home to work again for the next adventure.

I vowed never to make that mistake again.

Yet, here I am haunted by that fear. Not because I have $25 left to my name — after nearly 6 months abroad I still have close to half of my original budget. But at the same time I have no income flowing to my bank account.

One of my goals coming to Thailand was to hit the ground running and to teach English here, guaranteeing me an income and prolonging my budget. And, though I have yet to start teaching, I did not abandon that goal fully. In February I took a TEFL/TESOL course and received my English teaching certificate which unlocks many doors and many ways to sustain traveling. But when I received the certificate, the end of the school year was wrapping up. Though I could have searched for teaching opportunities, it was not practical seeing that I would be coming on board a month before school let out.

So I decided to wait.

All the while I watched my budget dip lower and lower.

Seeing red rising.

I have been pretty conscious of my spending each month. The past couple of months I have managed to keep my budget under $30 a day, some days even as low as $10. So I’m not frolicking about throwing around Thai baht like I’m rich, that’s for sure.

Tracking your spending has it’s downsides though. Obviously I don’t want to be oblivious about where my money is going and how I am spending. But tracking every penny that gets used and having no income adding back to your budget is just watching it slowly disappear. Almost like watching the sand in an hourglass trickle down ever so slowly until time is up. Constantly imputing red mark after red mark. And if you let it, and can become and obsession and a fear.

And that is what has happened the past few days.

On my most recent travel newsletter I discussed this sudden fear gripping me — fear that I would run out of money again even though I am not necessarily close to doing so yet. And this feeling seemed to grow in intensity after I decided to temporarily abandon the English teaching goal in favor of my one true goal.

Finally pursuing freelance writing.

My ultimate goal when I left stateside was to find the time I needed — no, to make the time I need — to pursue freelance writing outlets and to focus on furthering my travel blog.

Except the past couple of months while doing my TEFL training and afterward, I barely wrote any articles. I was caught up with the classes or feeling burnt out and lazily lying around my apartment. I realized that, just like back in the United States, I was letting things distract me from focusing on that main goal.

So dived back in head on.

The past couple of weeks I have felt a fury inside of me for writing. It seemed as though I finally found my mojo rejuvenated and the creative juices flowing. I haven’t been able to pull away from the keyboard, and the only thing that really does is when I need to either tinkle or when I start passing out on my laptop. Sometimes food. I’ve slurped down uncountable amounts of coffee. Café dweller could be a nickname, because it hasn’t been uncommon for me to spend 10-14 hours a day writing or scouring the web for freelance opportunities.

And even though I am in a foreign country and spending my days as of late sitting in a café, my mindset is that the hard work will pay off if I keep focusing on the goal and putting forth all of my energy.

But, like the budgeting downside, that also had an opposite effect as well.

The number of emails I have sent out to companies to write for has been in the hundreds. Every freelance travel writing opportunity that has reared its prospective head, I’ve zeroed in on. The problem is, I haven’t received many responses back. And the responses that I have, the companies aren’t actively looking to bring more writers on board.

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I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Passionate endeavors rarely are. I know that freelancing is like a war zone and you’ve gotta’ fight for opportunities. Or it is who you know. Yet I was finally giving it my all and receiving nothing back. It was demoralizing. I know I can’t expect instant payoff, but I couldn’t shake it off. And as much as I kept telling myself, “it’ll be fine, just keep pushing” the fear of failure was beginning to take hold.

What if I wasn’t good enough? What if they don’t like my writing? What if I can’t find any work and have to give up? What if I have to return home?

That damned phrase “what if” — something I’ve tried to eradicate from my vocabulary — was suddenly grasping my spirit with a death grip. I was beginning to think that maybe I should just give up the hunt for now and take the “easy” route by teaching. Not that teaching English is remotely easy, but it would almost be a guaranteed gig.

Surely I could teach and write? Well, if I did that then I would be focusing most of my time and energy to something else. Again I would be getting further and further behind on my main goal. I’d be supplementing the fear of failure or running out of money with a guarantee. A safer bet.

It’s a sick cycle.

I had been raised in a family where my father was a conservative and headstrong realist. He knew the hardships of life well, and though I do not know what his pursuit of happiness may have been once upon a time, I know that he ended up taking the guaranteed route. Throughout my childhood and into adulthood, he would constantly tell me when I had a lofty dream that it was nonsense. He would tell me to “get your head out of the clouds“. He would emphasize that it would be too high of a ladder to climb.

I used to despise the way he would crush any dream I had that wasn’t a “normal job“. These days I don’t blame him though. Life was hard and we struggled to get by. Maybe he knew how it felt to pursue a dream and have reality slap him across the face. Possibly he knew the effects of a failed attempt at something different, and he just wanted to protect me from that hurt. Maybe one too many failed attempts at it broke his spirit.

But I didn’t face other fears and other “what if” worries to leave the United States for nothing.

So how the hell do you beat this fear? 

That fear is the reflection of your own ultimate being. When you sit there daydreaming, envisioning this person that you want to be doing all of these spectacular things you want to do, what happens? You see yourself as this unreachable entity that far surpasses the limits you have mentally imposed. Suddenly, fear crawls across your skin and you feel like cowering away from what you saw. Cowering from your own greatness.

As that fear takes hold, you may instantly deem it as some crazy idea or unattainable goal. But what you saw — that is the person you are meant to be. That fear that you experience when you see yourself doing something amazing; a slight tingle in the back of your neck and maybe even causing your heart to beat faster — that is the test. Fear of risks stems from fear of something great inside you. That is the a challenge to your fortitude to see if you want it badly enough to face the fear. The fear of failure. The fear of trying out that wild dream you have, but going into it already telling yourself you won’t make it.

Don’t let fear beat you, because on the other side of that fear, is who you are meant to be. And only you can beat it.

It’s full steam ahead now.

I am tired of constantly beginning to pursue my passion only to allow fear to make me turn back and do something safer. I’m tired of thinking I have to do something else to be able to keep inching toward it. The truth is if I focus on it fully, I can gain much more traction.

Though I have been feeling demoralized lately, by writing about this fear that has been haunting me, it has actually helped refocus my mind.

There was also a good opportunity that came my way from the recent writing blitzkrieg I’ve been on. Opportunities I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of if I was focusing on other things. Hipmunk, a nifty flight booking company, has recently asked me to be one of their “destination experts” to create content for their website. And I am super stoked. Though it won’t pay all of the bills, it is a small start to being able to sustain my travels with my writing.

So I will keep at it.

I will keep working hard and even though that fear will surely creep up on me, I will not let it destroy my confidence. I know my goals and I know my self-worth and I know I can do this. And even with my budget dipping lower, I cannot let that stop me from moving forward. I will not be afraid of failure. Because through trial and error you can fail a thousand times, but if you keep at it, eventually you will succeed.

You can only be a failure if you quit.

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What is your greatest fear while traveling? Have you ever felt this way?


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