This is my first blog article since December 20th, 2014, nearly 6 months to the day. The absence was no accident but rather a conscious decision to shift my focus. My travels took a distinct shift just before Christmas last year. My four months of primarily solo adventures were ending for a shift to more quality time with friends and loved ones. I traveled to Rome to spend Christmas with a new friend met in Iceland. From there I went to England to spend New Year's and the following 8 days with my younger brother. After a short stopover in California I was off to New Zealand. My time in New Zealand was shared between some amazing family friends who welcomed me with incredible warmth and two different California loved-ones who traveled to New Zealand to share some adventures. My final stop before returning home was Chile, returning after 9 years to attend a wedding and connect with my Chilean brotha and his family.
The first four months of my trip, spent largely alone, allowed me to focus inward on what is truly valuable in my life and allowed me to dive deeper into my journey of daily writing. Once I began sharing my adventures with others I decided to take a hiatus from posting blog articles. I chose to reduce my online presence and attention and focus on the adventures at hand. I continued to write daily but withheld any online publishing. I have enjoyed my time away but I am now ready to break fast, return from hiatus, and begin posting again. I am revisiting all I've written since Christmas last year and plan to publish some of it. Many articles no longer resonate with me and I feel others are best saved in a personal time-capsule as a window into my mindset at the time. But many pieces are set for release.
I have been home for nearly 7 weeks. This time was largely spent reconnecting with the special people in my life, settling back into a rhythm, and focusing on my new direction.
I think a fun way to return to blog postings is to do a Travel FAQ. I have received a stream of the standard questions one expects to receive upon returning from a trip like mine. I write this article not to avoid answering questions each and every time I receive them. I absolutely love to discuss my trip and never tire of the typical questions. I write this to give deeper responses than passing conversations often allow. I have ordered these questions by the frequency with which I have received them, not the depth or value that I believe their answers provide.
What was your favorite place?
Short answer: New Zealand. I went to so many incredible places but nowhere struck me like New Zealand. Something immediately clicked when I arrived. This is indescribable. Through out my trip many places immediately struck deep when I first stepped off the plane/train/bus/etc. It's as though the underlying vibe of a culture aligned with my deepest self. I felt this in many places, but never as strong as when I arrived in New Zealand. I felt at home in a place with such a strong culture for outdoor and ocean activities. I felt an even deeper connection to the people. Everyone from friends to strangers on the street were incredibly friendly, warm, and welcoming. They took a genuine interest in extending a warm welcome to their country. I stayed in NZ longer that anywhere else, allowing me to sink deeper into the culture. I began to recognize things in the popular culture and the news. I began to resonate with the dry and awkward NZ sense of humor. I even began to revel in much of the media that my hosts insisted I need to be Kiwi to understand. My immersion went even deeper because I spent so much time with some old family friends. I connected on a completely different level with a pair of sisters that I've known for my entire life. Our mothers are close friends but their family moved back to NZ when I was about 3. We have seen one another several times over the years but they always remained those distant NZ friends that I saw perhaps every 5 years. They have three children but I spent about half my two months in NZ (in intermittent stays of a week or 10 days) living with the older two daughters, Sarah and Taryn. We connected better than I could have ever imagined and the friendship I built with them is one of the most valuable things I take from my entire trip. I guess its not a mystery why our mothers connected so well over 25 years ago. The final reason that my time in New Zealand was so special was the adventure that I shared with two close friends from home. I was incredibly fortunate to share two to three weeks with two different friends. The adventures we shared will stay with me for a lifetime. I cherish the memories and I am extremely humbled by the commitment to our relationships that they showed to travel half way around the world to share an adventure with me. Josh, Krystal, thank you. It means the world to me that you traveled half way around it to visit me.
What was your least favorite place?
A much more difficult question to answer, largely because everywhere had something special to offer. I do have a least favorite experience, but it is hardly due to the location. My trip began with two weeks in Turkey, spent mostly on a sailboat for a yoga retreat. Our schedule consisted of little more than twice-daily yoga sessions, sailing, playing in the sun and water, and feasting on incredible meals. Couple this with the fact that I was surrounded by close friends, old and new, and the experience begins to feel like a fantasy. When this portion of the trip ended my friends returned stateside and I went north into Sofia, Bulgaria. I found the city wonderful but the experience quickly turned negative. I was completely alone in a strange place and I certainly felt it. I felt a certain freedom and empowerment that came from being alone for the firs time but it was such a shock after the closeness I had developed on the yoga retreat. The weather turned grey and dreary and I became quite ill. Ill to the point of leaving a free walking tour to throw up in a public bathroom. I spent the next day or two in bed in the hostel before moving on to Belgrade. I suspect that my illness was largely brought on by emotional factors and the beginning of homesickness. Root cause aside, my time in Bulgaria stands out as one of the worst moments of the trip.
What is the best thing that happened to you?
This answer is difficult to boil down to a single experience. I think the best thing that happened to me is the trip as a whole. While that might seem like a cop-out answer or painfully obvious, its true. The greatest benefit that I gleaned from this trip transcends any single experience. The decision to leave brought the most empowerment and excitement I have ever felt. I took complete control over my life for the first time. Feeling that my current circumstances were no longer serving me, I made a drastic change. I was not unhappy but my job at the time was doing little more to serve me than providing a steady paycheck. It provided great comfort. Too much comfort can lead to complacency and complacency can seep into other areas of your life. I was stagnating and it was time for a big change. Booking my flight, putting in my notice, and beginning to plan my adventure brought me more empowerment and optimism than I ever knew existed in this life. Before leaving I used to joke that I didn't even need to actually leave, simply deciding to go brought all that I was looking for. Taking back my circumstances from the rut that they had fallen in proved the single greatest thing I have ever done for myself.
The second greatest benefit from my trip comes also from the experience as a whole: Solitude. I do not believe that a person should live his/her life in complete solitude. I love humans and I absolutely believe that we need intimate human relationships to live a fulfilling life. In fact, I believe these relationships to be the most important thing for health and happiness. All that said, extended bouts of solitude bring an incredible opportunity for personal insight and growth. I never experienced the level of isolation of Thoreau's Walden pond, but I was largely separated from all of the people and possessions in my life. Even in a large over-populated city it was easy to feel alone. Walking down a crowded street in foreign city, knowing not a soul or a word of the local language feels like the world is happening around you, completely separate from your own experience. It can feel like walking through a scene in a movie. You are simply an observer, not an active participant. This feeling of separation leaves you alone with your thoughts. Aspects of your life and your personality of which you were never aware begin to enter your conscious thoughts. Giving myself ample time to dwell within my own introspective thoughts allowed me to understand aspects of myself that I never knew existed and helped me discover the most valuable things to craft my life around. The current path I walk and life I move toward were discovered because of the extended solitude that my trip granted. I now seek and cherish time alone.
What is the biggest lesson you've learn? OR What was the biggest take away from your trip?
I have touched on my thoughts about this question a bit already. The greatest lesson I take from my travels is this: the most important things in life are the people that surround you. For true fulfillment and health you need little more than the basic material necessities and strong, intimate relationships. When I was away I longed for very little in the way of material possessions. Sure, there were a few items or activities I missed. A favorite jacket, my bed, surfing, cooking, my french press, my kettlebells, etc. Other than these few things, I required little more than what I carried with me. What I longed for most though were my people. Close friends, family, pets (yes, they count as people). A trip like mine acts like filter for determining the things that matter most. Most of us hang onto far too many things. Most of these hardly do anything to serve us. If they are not bringing benefit, they actually detract from our happiness. They can distract from what truly matters and prevent discovery of new things. Time away from all of the influences in my life allowed me to determine what matters most. Striped of nearly everything, the most important quickly rise to the top of your desires. Sure, I longed for many things throughout a typical day but most faded quickly when I wasn't able to fulfill them. I learned that most of what I long for are because they are easily accessible rather than true needs. I poured my entire life through a filter. Most passed right through but those things that remain are what I know I need in my life.
Most of what remains are the people in my life. I was strongly reminded that nothing compares to the deep fulfillment to comes from close relationships. I learned how easily we can fill our lives with possessions, patterns, habits, and poor relationships that distract from the people that truly matter. Since returning I have been so humbled by reconnecting with my family, friends, and C Street family. While it was been an, at times, difficult adjustment from such extended solitude, I find myself wanting little more than to pursue my new path and spend time with my loved ones.
I suppose the short answer to this question is people. I learned how important the people in your life are. The special people in my life are the only thing that I truly missed while away. The special people met along the way remain the most special memories from the entire experience.
I met so many incredible people along the way, but I would like to highlight a few of the standouts.
Roddi and Gummi
These two gave me an indescribably warm welcome into their home in Iceland. I knew there was a large CrossFit gym in Reykjavik so I emailed the owner and asked if he would inquire with his membership if anyone might want to house a CrossFit coach from California for a few nights. I received two responses. The first was from Roddi and I arranged to stay my first three nights with him and his husband Gummi. We hit it off extremely well. They took me somewhere special every night (a local restaurant, their favorite ice cream shop, a huge outdoor thermal pool, etc.). I left after three nights but had plans a few days later for a day trip with them to another part of the island. I stayed two nights with the other couple that offered to house me (huge thank you to Einar and Kristin as well!!) and then met back up with Roddi and Gummi. On our way back into Reykjavik they said that they missed me and invited me back over. I ended up staying the remainder of my three weeks in Iceland in their home. I overstayed my welcome a bit but they proved to be the best hosts I could have ever imagined. We had so many amazing adventures around Reykjavik and to other parts of the island. They made my three weeks in Iceland truly special.
Cristiana and Giulia
I met Cristiana and Giulia in Iceland. Giulia was in Iceland for two months working with Roddi. Both are doctors specializing in hyperbaric medicine. Giulia and I became quite close after renting a car together to explore along the southern coast of Iceland. Cristiana, Giulia's friend and another hyperbaric doctor, came to Iceland to visit for a week. She and I spent even more time together since we both had our days completely free. A few weeks later I spent a day exploring Barcelona with Cristiana and her boyfriend Fabio. She then invited me to spend Christmas with her family in Rome. Cristiana and her mother proved to be incredible hostesses and showed me an amazing time in Rome. She took me on a scooter tour through all of Rome on Christmas eve. I will never forget the image of Saint Peter's square at night, lit up for Christmas, and filled with people. The most special experience was Christmas dinner. I shared a gigantic Italian feast with Cristiana's brother's family and all of the in-laws. A multiple-course, 20+ person extravaganza that I will never forgot.
Sarah and Taryn
The aforementioned Kiwi sisters. I have touched already on what a special connection we developed. They made my time in New Zealand feel truly special. They welcomed me in with such warmth that we cultivated an immediate closeness and I felt more like a roommate than a guest. We took many day and weekend trips together, went to countless incredible restaurants, cooked meals together, and went to music shows and movies. The highlight of our time together is our Harry Potter movie marathon. I had just visited the Harry Potter set in London and begun a movie marathon with my brother when I arrived in New Zealand. One of the first things we bonded over was a fondness for Harry Potter and they were all too excited to finish the movie marathon with me (...of course Taryn owned the entire movie collection). They made me feel more at home than I had felt my entire trip. I am so grateful for their hospitality and friendship. I can't wait to someday return the favor.
Li, Paulina, Agustin, and Lucas
My Chilean brother, what more can I say. Li was an exchange student during my Junior year of high school. He and I hit it off at summer cross-country practices before the school year even began. Oddly enough, he sat right next to my best friend, Nate in history class on the first day of school. They hit if off too after Nate rescued Li from using a pen on this Scantron. I guess we were all destined to be friends. The best I can describe our relationship is that he is the Chilean version of Nate and I. The three of us developed a closeness that will last a lifetime during the year that he was in the US. We went to Chile to visit him after graduating high school and he has been back to the US twice since his first exchange. The final stop of my trip was Chile to attend his wedding. I lived with Li, his wife Paulina, and their two sons Agustin and Lucas for the final month of the my trip. It was absolutely amazing to reconnect with him and his family. I had met both of his two boys previously but this time they were old enough and I stayed long enough to build strong relationships with them. This was the most special time of the entire trip and the perfect conclusion to my time away.