On January 19, 2016, I set off on an adventure. Here’s how I look back on it, a little over one year later.
It’s been a year, which is strange in a way. The last 365 days have flown by in what felt like a blink of an eye.
Even though last year somehow feels like a short time, my previous “normal” life feels further away than it’s ever been. My daily routine was getting up, going to the office, coming back home, work some more, hit the gym/go for a run, and going to bed. Maybe throw in some Netflix or Xbox if I was lucky, but that was it for most of the week. In the weekend, I’d hang out with friends, but also work some more and do stupid must-do things like doing the laundry and getting groceries. Everything about my life was very predictable.
How things have changed.
I’ll never forget sitting on the plane taking off thinking: “what the hell am I getting into?”
Pretty much everything what was about to happen was completely unknown. It made me a little nervous, but at the same time, it was tremendously exciting. This wasn’t a booked vacation with a clear beginning, end, and a house & job to return to, mind you. All I had was a backpack, and a loose plan about which country to go next to.
Lessons from traveling
When I left, I already had some life-experience under my belt at age 29, in the sense that I wasn’t my dumb-ass self at 21 anymore. I’d done most of the stupid shit there is to do at this point, and I had a good idea about who I was and what I wanted out of life. Most of my experiences were just that – experiences. Few things were life-lessons anymore.
Late twenties are a fantastic place to be; a confident, grounded, relaxed mind in a young, strong body.
That said, the last year has been filled with moments that definitely stuck with me.
This place taught me that you’re not going to like every place you visit, and that’s okay. It was also the place of one of my most memorable experiences of my life: visiting the DMZ between the south and the north.
It also taught me that if you’re with the right person, it doesn’t really matter where you are.
Japan showed me what a society based around respect, decency, and discipline can look like. It truly is a beautiful thing. Life is pleasant when everyone is polite and acts like a decent human being.
It was also interesting to see the harmonious contrast between excessieve rigidness and unapologetic weirdness in one place. And the food, my goodness. They have somehow turned that into an art and a science at the same time. Japanese food is fantastic, but they have their own twist on Western food, as well. Japan has some of the best Italian food I’ve ever eaten.
This is a fantastic travel destination, and it exceeded my (high) expectations in every way imaginable. I can’t wait to go back someday, and I encourage anyone to check it out.
Taiwan was a lot of fun. What made it especially great was my friend who lived there. He knew the place, and he spoke Chinese. Visiting the night markets was memorable, and seeing massive fireworks in the streets during Chinese new year was very cool. It’s obvious, but having a local with you is a great enhancement to your experience. Thanks again, Tomas.
The Philippines was my first encounter with a legitimately poor country.
As much fun as I had there being a part of the 1%, it was an eye-opening experience more than anything. There’s nothing like seeing (and smelling) it all first-hand.
Stray dogs, shantytowns, people warning you to not go on tours with strangers because you might get kidnapped, the police beating the living shit out of a guy in the street for stealing something, the guy bringing over your beer at the beach openly carrying a .38 revolver… it’s a different world out there.
Anyone living in a Western nation should realize the grass is incredibly green on our side compared to most of the world. What we have is something to be proud of, and something that we should treasure and protect.
And of course, Australia.
Australia will forever have a special place in my heart. What a fantastic country. I could write a book about my year here (and I actually might).
From spending a week in a “surfing-bootcamp”, to hanging around in Sydney for a couple of weeks, to hitting the road in a bus filled with friends.
From partying it up in Surfer’s Paradise, to taking on odd jobs in Brisbane to make ends meet. From scuba-diving the Great Barrier Reef in the Whitsundays, to renting a Holden muscle car with some friends and tearing it up on a road-trip.
From living on the beach for a week in Noosa, doing nothing but surfing, reading, eating, and drinking, to getting worryingly close to crocodiles on the Daintee River. My folks coming over to visit was another terrific highlight.
Living on the tropical paradise that is Magnetic Island and working there as a bartender was one of the best experiences of my life.
Being a part of an island community, enjoying the ultra laid-back pace of it all, and embracing the “it’s always five-o-clock-somewhere”-mentality, I can describe as nothing but pure and utter joy.
My means of transport there was a glorious 1998 Honda Dio moped. It was as loud as a chainsaw, it had that typical 2-stroke burnt oil-smell, and it had an incredible top-speed of 40 km/h (25mph). As silly as it sounds, I felt like a golden God riding that stupid thing while wearing an Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip-flops.
I turned 30 while living on the island, I’ve met many, many colorful characters, and made a true friend for life in the process. Dan, I’m looking forward to our next beer, brother. Wherever it may be.
And here and now as I’m punching this up, I live in Perth on the West Coast. West Straya. It’s more than a five-hour flight away from the East Coast but still somehow the same country. The air here is insanely dry, the weather is radically different every day, and everything is just a little rougher. Perth is one of the most isolated cities in the world. There’s nothing around it for hundreds of kilometers.
Perth itself isn’t that big, but the places adjacent to it are nice. Fremantle is a cool town, and the Little Creatures Brewery is one of my favorite places to go when I have a day off. Margaret River is another great destination with countless wineries, craft breweries, and beaches with some of the best surf in the world. Everyone here has a smile on their face because life is good.
I worked here in one of the fanciest bars in town, which was another intense, but fantastic experience. Very different than the island bar, for sure. I can add “classic cocktail knowledge” to my resume now, in case I’m ever ending up working in a bar again. Funny how you learn new things unexpectedly.
As of writing, I have about three weeks left here. I already know I’m going to miss this country. Australia is fantastic in many different ways.
It’s hard to pick the biggest, most defining moment in this adventure so far, as I’ve had many of them. More than in several years preceding this last one. But, one moment still stands out to me for some reason. It was on Magnetic Island.
When I was hanging out at one of the barbecue areas on the beach with some friends and random locals, we were talking about the virtues of traveling. It was a laid-back yet deep conversation drowned in beers and cigarettes. We all were lounging on the bench, overlooking the anchored boats in Horseshoe Bay as the palm trees danced in the warm evening breeze.
At one point in the conversation I said something along the lines of: “The world is an interesting place,” to which one of the guys replied: “Life is an interesting place.”
It may sound like just another tired cliche, but hearing those words in that place on that moment, really made me stop and think.
It’s true; life can be as interesting or boring as you make it. A year prior to that very moment, I was stuck in a rut, and the mere idea of things being this fun and exciting was something I could only dream about.
Getting here wasn’t easy. Saving money, quitting my job, and especially leaving everything and everyone behind, kept me up at night leading up to the decision.
During the adventure itself things didn’t always go smoothly, either.
Finding work never goes automatically, and the stress that comes with being unemployed while living in a hostel dorm with people around you farting, snoring, and stumbling in drunk at night makes it tough to rough it out and keep on going. But you do.
Breaking my finger a couple of months in was very annoying, but at least it wasn’t the middle one.
Unknowingly moving into a crack-house and moving back out the next day was another wild experience, so I guess I can cross that off the bucket-list now.
Ah, so many stories.
All of this also taught me that almost all experiences, including the bad ones, are enjoyable in hindsight. It’s always worthwhile to keep your eyes and ears open, even if you’re not having a good time right now. Little things that I barely noticed then, are funny to me now.
Ultimately, I’ve always managed to land on my feet one way or another, with many life-lessons learned along the way.
Has it all been worth it?
You better believe it.