It’s 1:29PM on a breezy Tuesday in Paraty, Brazil, and I’m sitting in an orange hammock by the hostel bar. Paraty is a very idyllic, colorfully colonial town, with a few too many tourists for my liking. It is enveloped in mountains, and has many beautiful beaches and islands nearby. It is the poster-boy of “quaint,” and I’m enjoying my time here. I arrived in Paraty on Saturday, and will be leaving tomorrow for Sao Paulo. I’ll be CouchSurfing for the first time, and I’m very excited.Today, most of my friends went to the beach, but I’m a bit beached out. I need a break from the sun as well. I’ve just chugged through some more of the Steve Jobs Biography, which I’m 74% the-way-through, according to my 11” Macbook Air’s Kindle Reader. The book was a Hannukah present from my parents. I’m also listening to one of my favorite albums, Radiohead’s Live from the Basement in Paris, and man, do I feel energized to write.
The idea for this post was conjured last Friday, during an exhausting midday hike to Dos Rios Beach on Ilha Grande, Brazil. It’s more reflective than those of recent: back to the good stuff.I’m a massive fan of self-improvement; I make constant and continuous efforts to better thy me. Some of these efforts are outward, like requesting slacklining lessons last night, from a German dude and a Brazilian dude, on one of Paraty’s beaches at roughly 1:30AM, as a few dogs ran about, and my new, lukewarm Chileno friend was on his second hour of unscrupulously hijacking the conversation I had started with a lovely Colombian girl, and with no end in sight. Conversely, some of these efforts are more inward: walking/hiking alone and thinking about stuff. Jeff Calvert once preached to simply “get BETTER,” and it’s one of the best directives I’ve ever heard. Life is complex and beautiful, and there is always room to improve.
So far, it’s been 9 weeks of solo travel. I’ve done a lot, seen a lot, swung a lot and missed a lot and, like any traveler could tell you, I’ve met a lot of people. Each day, I’d guess that I meet at least 12 new people; there’s even 4 new arrivals walking past as I type. Most new introductions are similar, and they go something like this:
“Hey dude, where ya from?”
“Aussie mate, you?”
“From the States—America.”
“Right on—where abouts?”
“Philly, YO. Where abouts in Oz ya from?”
“Ahh beauty. I love Melbourne. I did a semester at RMIT. Loved that city.”
“Right on dude. How long you traveling for?”
“15 months maybe—and you?”
“9 months—South and Central.”
“Very nice. Gonna go cook some dinner. Meet you downstairs for a beer later.”
This is generic hostel banter. It may sound pretty lively, perhaps even exciting. In my opinion, it is. However, another mark of the traveler’s template introduction is repetition; we’ve all had this conversation hundreds and hundreds of times. The charismatic ones will mix it up—perhaps a “what’s your favorite color?!” every now and again—and the exhausted will simply abstain. This facet of travel, and of life in general, is imperative, and like it all, we can improve. One fundamental tweak in such a high-frequency interaction can make some real change. Friendships can become more organic, connections more real. This is to what we, or at least I, aspire.
So, in the last 9 weeks, I’ve tried some things. I’ve tried the color thing, and I’ve tried creating a fake name for myself for a bit of new flavor. I’ve succeeded, and I’ve failed. The two central questions in this dilemma, in my humble opinion, are as follows: what do you want to share, and how, specifically, do you want to share it?
In my last semester at Penn State, the I-just-met-you question of choice was pretty simple: what are you doing next year? As you all now know, I’m traveling, and I’m planning to be traveling for roughly 15 months. I traveled in East Africa, I’m currently traveling in Brazil, and I’m planning to travel in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, possibly Colombia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, briefly Finland, Russia, Denmark, France, possibly Spain, Morocco, possibly Greece, Turkey, Israel, India, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, possibly the Phillipines, and possibly and very super hopefully Japan. More or less, this has been the plan for a while. However, when the question was asked—what are you doing next year?—this was not my answer. Maybe 25% of the time, I’d coolly respond that I was considering a career in male prostitution. The market is bleak, but I am confident. Another 25%, and I’d say narcotics sales. I’m leaning towards methamphetamines, but psychedelics have the most intrigue. 10% of the time, I’d say I’m not sure. The remaining 40%, well, I’d say I’m traveling. They’d ask where, and I’d say a lot of places. They’d ask for how long, and I’d say I’m not sure—maybe a year. I had a pretty specific tone of voice picked out too—low, unassuming, deliberate, and purposely stuttered. I’m sure many of you know it. I’ll guess I met 250 new people in my final semester, and there was not one to which I fully divulged my true intentions.
The plan might make people jealous, for one. I did not want this. Why? The plan is tough to relate to—long-term travel isn’t a typically American endeavor. This might promote disconnect. Why? I felt like a spoiled asshole. Why? I felt it much cooler to respond with the cool stuff only when explicitly asked. Why…
Those are some possible reasons, and they are shitty. I didn’t do anything wrong, I’m not an asshole, and I’m not trying to make anyone jealous. Really. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a genuinely nice kid. Why should I have reservations about telling you my plans?
Um, yea. I probably shouldn’t.
It’s been 9 weeks of solo travel, and I’ve met a lot of new people. I’ve tried meeting these people in different ways, and I’ve tried improving upon the ways in which I meet these people. After 9 weeks of solo travel, here is the biggest thing I’ve learned:
Be more public about your individual.
The two operative words in this sentence, “public” and “individual,” were carefully chosen. Public does not mean cocky, it does not mean abrasive, it does not mean hurried nor loud nor dominating. What the word “public” does mean is a very natural combination of words like open, forward, transparent, and organic. “Individual,” on the other hand, does not mean you and all of you; it does not drag your deepest and darkest secrets and fucked-up fantasies into the mix.
In practice, being public about your individual means sharing things about yourself without being asked. It means calmly and energetically conveying who you are, where you are from, what your specific plans are, what you like to do, what you have done and what you aspire to do, and conveying this in a friendly, constructive and connective way. It means meeting people for the first time, and telling them you are wildly passionate about ice hockey, that you could eat spicy tuna hand rolls every single meal of the day for the rest of your life, and that you just climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, in the first or second conversation instead of the 8th. Being public about your individual means letting people know who you are without reservation; it means throwing in a few extra details even when you not prompted directly. I didn’t kill anyone, and I’m hoping you haven’t either. So—there’s not much to hide.
In a backpacker environment, the results are pretty immediate. Divulging where you’ve been and where you’re going, in full, definitely sparks some great conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred. It therefore means you have one extra person to drink with, to go hiking with, and to possibly keep you company during the bedtime hour.
Being public about your individual means being energetic about who you are, and sharing it with others. Usually, it inspires others to instinctively reciprocate, and more friends, like real friends that are your friends because you genuinely have something substantial in common, are made. After 9 weeks, this is the biggest thing I’ve learned.
Another thing that I’ve learned, or perhaps experienced, is genuine appreciation. I wake up every morning and feel luckier and luckier to be where I am, and to be doing what I’m doing. It’s true. I feel lucky that I meet people from all across the globe, that my day’s plans consist very specifically of what I want to do, that every day can be a party, that I’m learning some new languages, that the beach is never too far, and that I’m surrounded by people who are just as ridiculously excited to be alive as I. It’s truly an amazing thing, this backpacking shit, and I love it with all of my heart and soul.
It’s been more than 2 months so far, and I intend on another year at least. I think I’ve got quite a nice lineup too. The question is, well, how. I’ve always been pretty guarded on this topic—like really guarded. Back in the day, it was a fierce battle for me to divulge the real truth. Lately, I’m a bit more open. The vast, vast majority of long-term travelers work many jobs and many long, awful hours to fund their trips. Honestly, there’s a very strong chance I would have done the same, if not for my past occupation. Then again, I’m not sure I would have went backpacking in Western Europe when I was 18, which sparked the whole travel thirst in the first place.
This is kind of big, but I really don’t have much to hide. I didn’t kill anyone. Most of you already know how I fund my travels, but for those who don’t, I’m going to divulge. The reason for this is because I seriously wake up every morning more and more thankful for this stupid game—it’s my blog, and I’d like to share.
When I was much younger, I took $50 out of my desk drawer, sent it to a long-extinct payment processor called Firepay, and started to play some online poker. I was not a gambler then, and I am not now. I’m not the stupidest person you’ve ever met, but I’m not a genius either. I worked really, really hard at this game, and I built my $50 into something substantial—something that will keep me traveling for a while. I did not bink some tournament overnight. For me, online poker was thousands of hours of critical thinking, math, creativity, and community, of asking questions, reworking answers, waking up early and always moving forward. I was very passionate about this game, and about the brilliance and brilliant minds involved. So, for the first time, I would like to give an outrageously massive, first-time-public thank-you to online poker, and to all that it has given me. I am thankful for the way it taught me to think, to ask questions, to break down situations and create for myself. I am thankful for the community too, for the sickeningly bright individuals who thrive on the fact that there is always another way, and that you can always get better. I’m thankful for the friends I made, for the tiny spots over which we’d anguish, and for the student it helped me become. I’m thankful for the stories, for those guys who turned $5 into $5M and endless perspiration, and for the intimate understanding that you can truly take any path in life that you choose. High school-college-job-job-more job is one way, and online poker is another. That’s 2 paths out of about 2039480234lkj234098234.
Lastly, I am thankful for this life, for being 22 years old and on my 6th continent, for currently having the freedom to treat the world as the personal playground. I haven’t played a hand in more than a year, since towards the end, I wasn’t enjoying it so much. Those first few years though—man did I have fun. So, once more, online poker—I thank you with all of my heart and soul.
Lastly, well, I’m still a backpacker. I’m still arguing over taxi fares, drinking the cheapest whiskey I can find, and cooking noodles with the rest. My good fortune is used to travel more, not more comfortably. Why? Well, I support the lifestyle fully. I support redefining arbitrary notions of personal comfort, I support developing far too much patience, and I support stretching the utility of the dollar as far as you can—all in the name of traveling the globe. I support viewing the human in the biological sense, as merely a creature which needs some food and some water and some clothes, and not much more. I support being efficient, logical and realistic about what you really need to spend, what you really need to have, and what the world really expects of you. I support buying less and seeing more. This isn’t to say I’m a pauper; I have an SLR, I’m typing on a Macbook Air, and I’m listening to Radiohead’s “Everything in it’s Right Place” on my Bose QC15’s. I like toys too. However, I never bought a car, never too many clothes, never too much fancy food. This is what I love to do, this is currently how I love to do it, and this journey is where and how my money is being spent. And yea, I’m telling you on my blog—I don’t have much to hide. Public about the individual, eh? I support this backpacking stuff fully, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Or would I..
Pun intended, of course.
Going to go take some pictures in the Old City,