It’s been nearly 8 months since I’ve last updated this blog, a long enough to hiatus to cause even the most delinquent of bloggers to blush. The reason for this gap is simple: writing about my travels began to feel like a chore. The travel experience itself has still been fun for these last 8 months, but writing about every place I visit began to feel like unpaid work. So, in true sabbatical spirit I allowed myself to abdicate this responsibility.
However I feel inspired to write the blog post you’re reading now because it’s not a travelogue, it’s a wrap-up. After nearly 2 years on the road I’m officially bringing the Chasing Summer adventure to a close. Why? Because it’s time.
Since my last blog update I’ve spent most of my days in Southeast Asia, exploring Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Frankly I use the word “exploring” loosely, since due to travel fatigue I found myself stationary most of the time, often living for a couple of months in just one place and taking brief jaunts from there.
Reflecting on the time I’ve been away, I’ve gone through several stages:
- The first I’ll call The Freedom Stage, characterized by a sense of unshackling from the responsibilities of work and home life. This lasted 2 or 3 months.
- The second I’ll call The Wanderlust Stage, characterized by a sense of adventure and desire to visit exotic new lands and meet exotic new people. This one lasted about a year.
- The third I’ll call The Settling Stage, where I found myself tired of exploring yet hesitant to return home. So I kept traveling but very slowly. This is where I’ve been for the last 8 months or so.
- The fourth and final stage I’ll call Reinvigoration, characterized by a sense of purpose, focus, self-knowledge, and desire to do something meaningful. This is where I am today.
I’m very fortunate that my sabbatical was allowed to run its full course, uninterrupted by financial necessity, health constraints, family obligations, business emergency, or any of the other contingencies I feared. Most of the other travelers I’ve met along the way had to return home when they ran out of either time or money, invariably sooner than they’d like. I’m ending my travels because I’ve seen what I wanted to see, done what I wanted to do, and feel ready to begin the next stage of my life. For this I’m grateful.
Taking this sabbatical was one of the best decisions I ever made. Here’s a short inventory of what’s come out of it:
- I’ve visited 4 continents and over two dozen countries, some for long enough to immerse in the language and culture
- I’ve met hundreds of people from every nationality, religion, culture, and socioeconomic background imaginable
- I’ve learned how to kitesurf, speak Portuguese, catch piranhas, meditate, convert dozens of currencies in my head, and live comfortably out of a carry-on size backpack
- I’ve watched the sunrise at Macchu Picchu, swam in the Amazon river, sunbathed on Ipanema beach, climbed the Cotopaxi volcano, explored Angkor Wat, kitesurfed in Hawaii, ridden up the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, visited spiritual healers in Bali, sailed in the Thai Andaman sea, and enjoyed far too many other experiences to list
- I’ve met a girl I adore, whose path I otherwise would have never crossed (our one year anniversary is coming up)
- I’ve proven that my company, Infosurv, can survive and thrive without me, benefiting everyone involved
- Heck, I even made the cover of a magazine
All of these things are wonderful, but they only reflect my outward journey. The inward journey I’ve made is less apparent but far more important. Though I look about the same as I did 2 years ago, I feel like a new man, with new priorities, new values, and a new life path.
I’m more relaxed now, obviously, but also more self-aware. I know myself better than ever and have learned to listen, really listen, to my heart. I’m confident about who I am and who I am not.
I’ve come to value money less and time more; things less and people more; recognition less and impact more; logic less and intuition more; appearances less and essence more.
I’ve had the time to challenge every assumption I’ve ever made about myself. Some parts of my identity have been reaffirmed, such as my entrepreneurial drive and love for my family and friends. Other parts have come into question, such as my religious and political stances.
Ironically, spending nearly 2 years without work has made me value work more. I’ve learned that work provides much more than financial means, but also a necessary sense of purpose and contribution. I’m deeply excited to build my next company, which I’ve already begun work on. My new company will be built around my passions, and it will prioritize social impact over profits (though both are important.)
I’ve come to know many cultures and they’ve each become a small part of me. I’ve learned to enjoy food like an Italian, to enjoy life like a Brazilian, to love like a Colombian, and to smile like a Thai. I’ve also built a healthy distrust of the media and how it covertly shapes our impressions of foreign lands. Believe me, there is a lot more to Colombia than drug cartels and a lot more to Vietnam than a war. I haven’t yet been to Iraq or Afganistan but am sure the same rule applies.
I’ve also gained a new appreciation for both the strengths and weaknesses for my home country, the United States. Our sense of innovation, idealism, and optimism is unmatched in the world. Silicon Valley couldn’t be anywhere else. On the other hand, our consumerism has gone off the deep end, we’re embarrassingly ignorant about the rest of the world, and our food culture leaves much to be desired.
There are a few aspects of my traveling life which I hope to retain when my travels end:
- Minimalism – When I packed up my Atlanta condo, I really thought I would miss all my stuff. I haven’t. My big screen TV, Tempur-Pedic mattress, fancy sound system, designer clothes, the art on my walls… haven’t missed them a bit. I only think about them when I grudgingly pay my Public Storage invoice each month. I’ve enjoyed a Zen-like calmness knowing that all I need in life can be carried upon my back. I hope to retain this minimalism as long as I can.
- Geographic freedom – One of the rules of my sabbatical was to never plan more than a week in advance. In practice it was more like 2 days. I enjoyed knowing that I could stay someplace for a day, a week, a month or year, unconstrained by lease terms or the heavy weight of material possessions. This isn’t to say that I’ll never again buy furniture or sign a one-year lease, but I’m now more predisposed to renting than owning.
- Worldliness – I left on this sabbatical as an American, but I return as a citizen of the world. I now see the lines we draw on maps as rather arbitrary. Languages, cultures, religions and political systems differ across nations, but people are people. Vietnamese Communists want the same things in life as American Capitalists, and Malaysian Muslims want the same things as Thai Buddhists. Anyone who says otherwise is motivated by either gaining votes or selling newspapers.
So what’s next?
After a few weeks in Scotland to visit my girlfriend’s family, we’ll board a plane to the USA. After visiting with my family in Atlanta and Denver, we’ll head to San Francisco with the intention of making it home. Of course, in keeping with #2 above, all geographic options shall remain open.
I’d like to sign out with a few words from the great poet T.S. Eliot:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.