Loafing Like Larry
265 Days of Wandering Around the World
I don’t think you need to fly halfway across the world to find yourself, but I also don’t think you’ll find much if you never leave home either. I’ve met “expert” backpackers who were adamant that you needed to spend at least “x” number of months on the road before you could truly understand travel, and I’ve met luxury vacationers that laughed at disillusioned hippies like these for spending months in a place without ever being able to afford the best it had to offer. I don’t agree with either of these pundits. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited several countries, across six continents, over the past eight years, either through work or personal travel. I’ve taken weekend getaways, short vacations, and longer backpacking trips. Each has shown me something new. Travel can be just as much a two-day camping trip as it can be a year-long world tour. It’s what you take away from it that matters. You can live a lifetime in a matter of moments, and you can find riches in the poorest of situations.
My most recent travel experience saw me spending almost 9 months abroad, backpacking through parts of Mediterranean Europe, Morocco, Nepal, Southeast Asia, Australia, and Pacific Asia. I kept a journal to jot down notes, from thoughts and feelings to food recommendations and noteworthy attractions. I’m no travel blogger or journalist, and I think that there are already enough inspiring wanderlust articles out there for people to read. I don’t need to preach the joys of travel to those who already love it. Similarly, anything I write here is unlikely to convince those who don’t like to travel, to take a leap and buy a plane ticket tomorrow. But, after revisiting my journal, I felt there were things I could share from my experiences that would be worthwhile, even if they weren’t philosophically ground breaking.
“The only difference between being profound and being cheesy is the conviction behind the actions.”
I wrote this very early in my trip, only a couple of days after I started my journey, in Lisbon, Portugal. I befriended another traveler at my hostel who happened to be a young, homosexual, British guy whose family originated from Saint Martin. Needless to say, he sported an eclectic mix of appearance, speech, and interests. He was unapologetically upfront with who he was and carried a bit of an I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. He wasn’t rude, but he didn’t worry about what other people thought of him; other travelers, friends back home, or Portuguese natives. He was unafraid to embrace certain stereotypes, while quickly laughing off others. We ended up hopping through a few bars in Barrio Alto, drinking cheap beers, watching football, and chatting with different groups of locals and travelers.
I would meet several more genuine individuals like him over the following months, and unfortunately, even more genuinely-trying-hard-to-be-cool types. It was never what they said that made me think they were genuine or not, it was how earnestly they said it and how unpretentiously they carried themselves. Meeting these people encouraged me to stop second guessing myself about whether something I said, or did, was coming off lame or stereotypical. I realized I would never be phony if I was honest. I like posting my experiences on Facebook and Instagram. I care about what other people think, but I don’t live my life to impress them, and I don’t live my life to accumulate Likes. The people who truly care about me aren’t going to be any more impressed by a selfie from atop of the Himalayas, because they’re the same people who’ve seen me fall face-first into a swamp while drunkenly bragging about how great a wingman I was. I hate the saying “real recognize real,” because it’s become simply another throwaway pop culture catchphrase, but it is a truthful one. There are few things more compelling than authenticity.
“I might not be able to travel, and not work, forever, but this is real life because I am doing it. I am living it. I think we are only limited to what “real life” is by our own beliefs and the norms that society imposes on us. My biggest obstacle in life is myself.”
I was in Siracusa, traveling around the gorgeous southern Italian island of Sicily, which became one of my favorite parts of the country. At the time I wrote this, I had recently finished a couple of day trips that included hiking a cliff overlooking the beautiful coastal town of Cefalu and exploring the ancient Greek ruins that lined the coast of Agrigento. It hit me then that these experiences weren’t an escape from reality, they were reality. I thought about all the people I’d met, including myself, at times, who often spend large portions of their lives doing either what they’ve been told will make them happy or what they’ve subconsciously learned should make them happy. I thought, shit, who says that my “vacations” have to be the best times of my life? Who says that I need to grind it out for more than eleven months each year just to spend a couple of weeks on enjoying myself? I know this isn’t revolutionary thinking, but how many people do you know refer to the end of their vacation as “back to reality”?
When I graduated from high school, I went on to study business, simply because I thought I had the skills for it, and that it would give me the best shot at starting a career that would make me financially stable. Luckily, I’ve enjoyed most of it so far, and the financial consistency was one of the reasons I was able to take this trip in the first place. I’ve got no regrets, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve got to accept the status quo if I think I can find a way to live more happily. There might be very few people who grow up to be Academy Award winning actors, but I think there’s still enough room in the world for anyone to build a life of art, travel, work, family, and whatever else they are passionate about, without being pigeonholed into one specific life path.
“The power to make the world a better place is in creating opportunities for improvement, not throwing money at a problem like a band aid for a severe wound. People need to be given tools, knowledge, and time, to become better. They must change, you cannot force change upon them.”
There are many great organizations that are creating positive change in the world. It was special for me to be able to see, first hand, one at work in a foreign country. I was in Marrakech, and I had decided to venture outside of the medina for lunch because of an interesting blog I had read. The Amal Women’s Training Centre and Moroccan Restaurant was founded by Nora Belachen Fitzgerald, who wanted to create new employment opportunities for underprivileged women in Morocco. To accomplish this dream, she crowdfunded a training centre, and restaurant, to give learning resources, language lessons, and skill training to Moroccan women, in hopes that they would be able to subsequently transfer these skills to long term career opportunities. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to work and live in the Middle East for 3 months, and I was able to more actively learn about Arabic cultural beliefs. Morocco is not the Middle East, but some of the same economic disadvantages for women still exist there. Amal means “hope” in Arabic. The meal I had at this restaurant was one of the best I had over the course of a month in the country. Moroccan spiced chicken sefa and a fresh cucumber smoothie. After lunch, I asked the manager if she had time for a quick chat, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that several women at Amal had successfully moved on to secure full-time jobs elsewhere. When I decided to give a contribution, I felt that I wasn’t throwing money at a charity to make me feel good about myself. I felt that I was helping contribute to a team that was producing positive change in their own part of the world.
After Morocco, I spent a month traversing around Nepal. I met people who would open my eyes to how the majority of charitable donations made following the 2015 earthquake weren’t actually being funneled to the affected communities. It would make me more skeptical and jaded towards international charities and government agencies, but it also has made me more motivated to find meaningful ways to contribute to the global community. I think change always begins, and ends, with people, and that although funding is a critical part, time and presence creates real results. Even if my contributions are relatively small, I hope to make some sort of impact on the people I meet.
“I keep thinking about what Adel said in Tamraght about how good people act knowing that each night they will go to sleep, and may, or may not, wake up the next morning. They try to do good each day.”
I stayed at the Lunar Surf House in Tamraght for a couple days, which Adel and his partner owned. It had an awesome rooftop filled with couches and cushions, and overlooked the southwestern coastal beaches of Morocco. One night, we lounged around an impromptu mini bonfire that Adel started. When the fire had been reduced to embers, Adel got up to leave. Someone casually said “goodnight, see you tomorrow”, to which he replied, “hopefully see you tomorrow.” He explained that a good man knows that he might not wake up tomorrow, so he tries to be good, and do good, each day. I don’t think what Adel said simply boils down to “live each day like it’s your last,” or “carpe diem.” It was about trying to accomplish some good each day, but also about the fragile finality of each day. No two days are the same, and if you’re lucky enough to wake up tomorrow, you have a new opportunity, and obligation, to do good with it. I hope I wake up tomorrow in the literal sense, but I also know how quickly things can change. What do the people I care about remember as the last thing I said to them? Am I happy about the last 24 hours I’ve lived? I’ve always had a tendency to focus on the big picture, the long term goal. I know that sometimes you’re going to need to make sacrifices and endure less than stellar times to get to where you ultimately want to go. But, while some people are “working for the weekend,” I think there’s something to be said about trying to have more good days than bad by the end of the week.
(After reading The Zahir by Paulo Coelho) “I keep thinking about the theme of rediscovering love organically and not trying to manufacture it in the nature that we have learned or expected it to be — the fairy tale story. Not chasing the love we think we need, but opening ourselves up to the love that flows through life.”
I had broken my big right toe while riding a scooter on the small island of Karimunjawa. After a four-day shit storm navigating Indonesia’s health care system, I finally sorted everything out and decided to relax for a week or two in Bali. During the first couple weeks, I had more downtime than I would’ve liked. I picked up The Zahir at a used-book store in Kuta. Paulo Coelho’s books are usually love stories in nature that intertwine with other universal themes about the human condition. The Zahir turned out to be a more direct introspective look into the concept of love. That concept has fascinated me over recent years, and more so during this trip, even though I don’t think I fully understand it. Throughout my travels, I’ve been able to witness how limitless love can be, affecting the lives of so many in so many different ways. I’ve also been equally frustrated at how absent love is in some places, causing so much hate, indifference, prejudice, and selfishness.
Years ago, a friend of mine explained the meaning to me behind the “agapi” tattoo she had on her ribs. The Greeks have several words for referencing love, and agapi is more unconditional in nature, not limited specifically to romance or friendship. I always liked the diverse nature of foreign languages because I felt Western culture was more limiting, with most people equating the word “love” with finding your romantic soulmate. I feel that love has been reduced to cookie cutter rom coms and radio pop songs in many parts of the world. Almost two years ago, I met another traveler in a desert in Peru who said something to me that took me time to really appreciate. It was short and succinct, and if I were to ask her today I don’t even know if she would remember saying it. When I first met her, I asked her why she liked traveling. She told me she traveled to find love. At the time, I thought it was a bit helplessly romantic, but now, I’m starting to think she had one of the best reasons for traveling out of anyone I’d ever met.
“I remember Somerset Maugham’s quote in the Razor’s Edge (on) taking off away from the beaten track — “many are called, few are chosen.” To me, the real challenge isn’t necessarily taking the less touristic path, the path less chosen, it’s being able to have the courage to take the path that is purest to you, that goes against your (current) nature, but is the one you know you need to take. Few are willing to take that path. The beaten track is relative to each person, not to a guidebook.”
I believe one of the biggest differences between those who are successful and those who are not, those who are happily fulfilled and those who are comfortably content, is their ability to have the balls (or lady balls) to jump in with two feet, with the resiliency and determination to chase something they truly want. I don’t think you need to reinvent the wheel to discover something great, but you have to have the vision and fortitude to push your “hunch” beyond being just an idea that you talk about after you’ve had a couple of beers. I’ve met people who seemed to be traveling to cross off a bunch of items from a Lonely Planet checklist, and I’ve met people doing the same with their careers and relationships. Believe me, you’re not the only one reading that “10 Best Kept Secrets of Thailand” article. Everything’s been done, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something new and meaningful to you. I’m sure I’ve done a lot of things that have already been mentioned in countless travel books, and I’ve probably done some things that are much less known. I didn’t need to lose myself on an uncharted island to challenge and improve myself. I’m not sure if Maugham meant it when he wrote it, but I always read his quote as being more of a frame of mind than a physical journey off the beaten path.
Note: for those curious about the title of this article, it is in playful reference to one of the main characters from The Razor’s Edge.
“I think that many educated, and even intelligent, people, who travel the world, don’t completely grasp life around them. As valuable as knowledge can be, it can also be a deterrent to opening your eyes and soaking up what is really around you. To allowing yourself to be challenged by different perspectives. To learning from those you don’t hold in the highest regard. I’ve personally learned the most about the world, people, philosophy, when I’ve forgotten what I know and approached travel with open curiosity. I’ve learned more about the world from “uneducated” people that I have from “successful” people.”
I don’t want to turn this into an argument about elitists versus purists or education versus intelligence. I simply think active curiosity is essential to learning, and it’s a harder trait to maintain when someone is a successful individual who has become accustomed to being rewarded for what they already know and do. During my travels, I’ve realized how much I don’t know and how differently others perceive what I thought was fact. There’s a set of lyrics from the song Fashion Coat, by the National, that goes: “I’m not stupid, I swear, I read the foreign news to understand my nation.” I don’t think someone can really understand something until he starts opening up and challenging his own way of thinking, with the different perspectives that exist out there. My mom asked me what it took for me to realize this. I told her that part of it was meeting young, educated professionals along the way who clearly had a narrow minded, self indulgent, view of the world. I then realized I was probably like them not too long ago. When I started to close my mouth more and open my ears, I started to see things I didn’t beforehand, from people I hadn’t paid attention to prior. I’m not saying that most educated people are too narrow-minded for their own good. I actually wrote this snippet after chatting with a well-educated Kiwi history teacher, at a hostel in Hiroshima, who taught me a great deal about educational challenges. However, the conversation sparked me to reflect on where the most important things I’ve learned have come from, and most of them came from unlikely sources. In a society that praises successful business people, influential political leaders, and the brightest intellectual geniuses, it’s become less common to lend that same ear to school children, fishermen, and stay-at-home mothers.
So, did I “find myself” after traveling halfway around the world and back? Yes. I found an important part of me that I needed to find, but only to realize I have a lot further to go than I first thought. I’m a work in progress, but I’m a better person today than I was nine months ago. I’m sure that in ten more years, I’ll look back at how young and naive I was today. I suppose that’s why they say life is a never ending journey, until it’s over.
When I decided to take an undetermined amount of time off from my career, I wasn’t unhappy with my life and I didn’t hate my job. In fact, I was fairly content overall. However, I did feel an overwhelming pang in my gut that I wanted more. To see more. To do more. To experience more. I don’t think there’s always an epiphany at the end of every travel experience. Some people tend to think those who travel are either running from something or running after something. But sometimes, some of us choose to travel just because we want to. Because we want to see, learn, feel, and grow in different ways. No magic fixes, just a fresh perspective.
When I was 7 years old, in grade one of elementary school, we had to answer the question “what does happiness mean to me?” This is what I wrote:
“Happiness is when someone feels good about themselves or when someone does something good for you and you like it that might be one of them. Or when your heart feels good that could be another one. Happiness takes work. It doesn’t come by itself, you have to make it happen.”
20 years later, in Naoshima, Japan, I wrote the following in my journal:
“I want to live on my terms, doing what I truly want to do. Who says that getting married, buying a house, finding job security, and starting a family is happiness? I’m not saying that I don’t want those things, but I can make my life the way I want to, with or without things like those, when or never, I want them. I’m not naive enough to think that life doesn’t require sacrifice or challenge. Happiness takes work, but I’m only going to put in work if there’s purpose and meaning”.
There are some things you inherently know when you’re young that take you several more years to actually understand, and that you spend the rest of your life trying to fully manifest. Happiness is one of those things for me. Travel has had a way of helping me reflect on what truly makes me happy, on where I am currently, and on where I want to go next. For me, happiness is a continuum. It’s not simply you are happy or you are not. One reason I love to travel is to try to discover that little bit more happiness, to squeak out a little bit more out of life. Travel isn’t always easy and isn’t always fun. During this past trip, my grandmother passed away, and my cousin was re-diagnosed with cancer after being in remission for years. The price of travel to me isn’t the physical fatigue, logistical discomfort, or mental toll. It’s the opportunity cost of time with the people you care about. Time is the most valuable currency in the world. My time spent traveling has been some of the most meaningful of my life, and part of me is defined by my time abroad. But, I don’t want people to think travel is an easy, guaranteed path to enlightenment.
The longer I spent living out of a backpack, the more I realized that, as much as I loved life on the road, I also loved life back home. I felt inspired to leave, and now, I feel inspired to be back. At least, for now. I think life would be boring if it was one dimensional. I am more than my travels. I am my friends, my family, my work, my passions, and my dreams, among other things.
I struggled with what I wanted to include in this piece and how much of myself I was willing to share. I’m neither old enough, nor accomplished enough, to be telling you what to do with your life. But, hopefully, there will be something in my words that will resonate with you and that you can take with you, in the same way that I have taken from countless others. In the end, it’s always been the people I’ve met, not the places I’ve been, that I’ve remembered most.