Round The World In My Thirties

In June 2018, after 10 years leading Homegrown, I resigned as Co-CEO to travel around the world and give myself the space to define what I want my next decade to look like. I went to remote places I had dreamed of seeing with my own eyes since I was little like Antarctica, the Himalayas, and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, interestingly all places where climate change is apparent everywhere you look.

I stepped foot on all seven continents inside of 12 months. I visited 25 countries (counting Antarctica just because I love a nice round number) but it didn’t feel like I was traveling all that fast. Outside of Europe, excursions and short stopovers, I typically stayed in a country for about a month.

I saw the Great Migration in Kenya’s Masai Mara, kayaked with the penguins, seals and whales of the Antarctic Peninsula, meditated with Tibetan monks, sailed in the Adriatic, four-wheeled Chile’s Carretera Austral, scaled 15,000 foot snowy passes in the Himalayas, swam with sea turtles off the coast of Lombok, rode a camel in the Sahara, trekked with a herd of Ibex in Slovenia, communed with puffins in the Faroe Islands, and jumped off waterfalls with indigenous children in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

But at age 33, there were many moments when I felt this trip might be better suited to a 23 year old. For instance, I quickly learned that I no longer enjoy sleeping in hostel dorms, a lesson that added a great deal of cost, and I’ve known for a long time now that I would much rather get up early to see the sunrise than stay out all night waiting for it. But there were so many more times when traveling in my thirties felt right where I should be.

One reason is I know who I am now and that really does count for a lot. When you travel in your twenties you walk past the market stalls selling billowing pants with colorful patterns on them and you see fellow travelers ambling around town in ballooning trousers just like them and you start to ask yourself, “am I someone who wears funny pants?” It’s actually the same feeling I get now when I’m in an upscale men’s shop and I invariably try on one of the sharp looking felt hats and look at myself in the mirror wondering “am I someone who wears felt hats?” It’s as liberating to know who you are in your thirties as it was to experiment with that question in your twenties, whether it was with funny pants or your fill in the blank. And for the record, I have not given up on felt hats. I think when I lose all my hair, there might be a real opportunity to add a pinch of balding sophistication to my wardrobe. Author’s Note: Of course it’s ok to change, especially if you feel compelled to, whether it’s spiritually or sartorially. For example, I challenge any man to travel for a year at any age without buying at least one bracelet.

Another reason I loved extended travel in my thirties was I could afford to do the things I wanted to do. I didn’t leave much on the table and I am incredibly privileged to be positioned in life to have made this choice and been able to fund it. There’s nothing like visiting some of the poorest countries in the world to hit you over the head with just how lucky you are. Life on earth is incredibly unfair. One walk through a slum on any continent will force you to swallow that reality whole. Perspective is everything. A friend I met while traveling reminded me of the apt Paul Farmer quote, that “the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” I always think of the natural world in this context too.

The environmental degradation I’ve seen on this lap around the globe has been truly staggering. What got to me the most was not just the deforestation, or ubiquitous roadside burning trash, or rivers running with so much plastic debris they’ve nearly exhausted their life-giving force, it was seeing the 20 year recession markers on some of the biggest glaciers in the world. The speed of the melting is much easier to comprehend in real life than on a PowerPoint chart. These experiences renewed my drive to help push climate solutions forward. The irony that my travels were made possible by the burning of enormous quantities of jet fuel is not lost on me.

I’ve always been interested in anthropology and art and music, but to me nothing communicates culture more than food. While I call myself a “reducetarian” and eat vegan most meals, I feasted this year in ways that spoiled my tastebuds more than they could have ever prepared for. From Faroese salt cod fritters to Slovenian wine to Viennese schnitzel to Czech Pilsner to Turkish kahvalti to Tel Avivi sabich to Swahili fish curry to Moroccan baby squid tagine to Argentine asado to Chilean pastel de choclo to Colombian mondongo to Osakan vegetable katsu to Napali dal bhat to Malaysian curry to Indonesian nasi campur, this year was truly a three meal a day party. So many cooks brought me so much joy, from tiny villages in the Greek islands to vaunted restaurants on the top 50 list. Looking back all I can say is how grateful I am that I reliably get hungry three to five times a day, and I’m excited to recreate a few of my favorites from the road in my home kitchen.

When you move this quickly through so many biomes and cultures I think the thing that stays with you longest is the people and the energy in a given place. Sometimes I would arrive in a town and immediately feel a bad vibe and other times I was dead set on extending my stay before my head even hit the pillow on the first night. Just like at home, the people who are around you shape your experience.

But often there is no one around but you. Extended solo travel makes you fiercely independent and it can be as challenging as it is fun. A close friend who loves traveling alone puts it perfectly: “it’s the highest highs and the lowest lows.” I’ve been so fortunate to have met some amazing people along the way and to have had some much needed rendezvous with family and friends. But I’ve learned there’s a huge difference between being alone when you want to be and being alone when you don’t. I’ve stayed in a few villages where I was the only traveler. And I’ve stayed in places where there were heaps of them. But the common denominator is you and what you want and need in a given moment. The emotional self reliance I’ve built this year is what I’m proudest of.

This trip also illuminated how little time we have for ourselves in everyday life. Between a high stakes job, exercising, and managing to feed myself, I used to feel like my days would evaporate almost as soon as they began. And I don’t even have kids yet; I can only imagine how much the required selflessness of parenthood speeds up the daily clock even faster. But this year has felt longer than any other I can remember. I’d often spend my mornings writing, drawing or reading and I’d frequently look at my watch shocked that so little time had passed. The slow passage of time has been the biggest contrast between this year and my past “professional” life. It has been incredibly restorative to slow down.

As a say-yes-to-everything kind of person, I used to always find myself rushing from one thing to the next. I used to blindly think of it as “maximizing.” But on my two hands I can count the times I’ve rushed this year, whether through a meal or to catch a flight. To be conscious and savor every bite of life doesn’t have to be a luxury only afforded to those who quit their job or retire.

I also disconnected from the Internet a bunch of times including some stretches as long as two weeks. Although there was often a forcing function like being off the grid in a wilderness area, it was just as often opt-in and I was always excited for the break. Somewhat related I think, I’ve really grown in my meditation practice as well. A quote I love comes to mind: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you” - Anne Lamott. It’s amazing how good calm feels when you can maintain it for a while. Of all the things I’ve learned this year, I am going to try my hardest to bring this level of consciousness and slower pace into my next chapter.

In his book How To Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan discusses a similar goal as well as how hard it is to put the learnings of a transformational experience into practice in your everyday life, observing eloquently that afterwards, “the experience of some other way of being in the world survives in memory and as a destination.”

Entrepreneur working at the intersection of food and enviornment

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