December 12, 2006

One Year Abroad
Buenos Aires, Argentina

365 Days abroad; over 20,000 miles traveled; 22 nations explored (26 touched) by foot, horse, motorcycle, car, truck, bus, boat, train, and plane; 167 travelogue entries posted; and 8,106 photographs taken (with 2,558 exposures in the gallery).

An amazing year.

An Unexpected Path

Northern Hemisphere

I honestly never expected to move through the Caribbean the way I did, or to even enter into Central America in the first place! It was my original intent to make it to Brazil for Carnival 2006, but that ended up falling apart when I was on the island of Trinidad.

I became a crew member on a yacht and sailed north for almost two months aboard the Odessa, until reaching the island of Bequia (of St. Vincent and the Grenadines). After living amongst the bananas and coconuts for a month I jumped to a few more islands and ultimately ended up back in Puerto Rico, where I had started months earlier.

From Puerto Rico I took a flight into Cancún, Mexico, and started sauntering south—eventually visiting every country in Central America.

Southern Hemisphere

From Panama I took a flight into Colombia, where I started traveling counterclockwise around the continent. Eventually I reached Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, where I decided to spend the remaining weeks of December waiting for New Year.

A One-Way Street

One of the biggest challenges I've been dealing with is maintaining relationships with friends and family left behind. My life is pretty much an open book, thanks to the massive effort I've put into Travelvice. Sadly, what's almost totally absent is news and events from people I care about.

Friends and family have new homes, jobs, cars, schools, lovers, babies, stories, and adventures that I'd still love to hear about—but most aren't use to writing these things out for someone to read. I have to work hard to e-mail regularly, ask questions, and pull the answers out of 'em. Maintaining these relationships is important to me.

English

English is an important world language to know. I am fortunate to have been born in a country where it is the national language. Unfortunately in the U.S. learning a foreign language is far from an educational priority.

I've told people: Learning English in your country is a necessity; learning a foreign language in my country is a novelty.

Reflection

How does travel change you? How have I changed in the past year?

How much of my change is a result of my life experiences abroad, or is the majority of it just the natural progression of my personality as I get older?

How long and far does one have to travel to become/be considered worldly? I wish to be thought of as such. I know the definition, but what does it really mean to be worldly?

I've met plenty of backpackers with round-the-world tickets that visit many places, experience many things, but don't seem to have absorbed anything at all. A collection of photos from the world's most famous landmarks, people slept with, and party scenes at the bar.

I have no doubt it's very fulfilling for them, sometimes I'm a little envious myself, but does a collection of stamps in a passport make you knowing or sophisticated?—no, of course not.

Hello, Traveler

I can sense when an experienced traveler enters the room—almost like a Highlander does with their own (minus the cheesy sound effect). The equipment they carry, the casual calm that's exuded as they take in their new surroundings for the first time—it's similar to the gaze a seasoned surfer displays as he sizes up the waves.

It may be a new location for him or her, but all the familiar elements are there (like most every supermarket I've entered). Same, same, but different.

Hostel Life

During the past year of travel in the Caribbean and Latin America, I've lived in a lot of lackluster places. I've seen the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. People who know nothing about properly setting up and running a hostel (essentially a place with a stove, common area, and beds) are making silly amounts of money.

I've developed my own thoughts on what constitutes the foundation of a good living environment—a home away from home:

  1. Location—its proximity to the big three: a grocery store, Internet access, and local points of interest
  2. Safety and Security—with regards to both the traveler and their belongings
  3. Cleanliness and Comfort—well maintained bathrooms and clean beds

I think many would list socialization as one of the top three attributes sought after—perhaps above that of a toilet with a seat—but I find that if the above three are in place, the location will be filled with happy travelers, and finding someone to chat up won't present much of a problem.

Perfect Guidebook

I don't need or want 60% of the filler in my Lonely Planet (or most every other brand guidebook that I've read). If I was to design one of these, it would have these essential elements (and be available as an e-book):

  • Why I'd want to visit the location;
  • City maps (words can't describe how useful these are);
  • Where to stay for the first night or two in town;
  • Parts of the city that should be avoided (if applicable);
  • Taxi and bus details (how much, where, how often, etc);
  • Recurring holiday and festival dates; and
  • An explanation of city points of interest (as mentioned in the Why You'd Want Visit section).

Everything else comes easily once you're in town.

Trust

I have trust issues. I am not ignorant to the fact that there are people who wish to take something that I don't want to give (tangible or intangible—money, possessions, time). It takes time to advance through the levels—from please watch my seat to please watch my backpack.

Traveler-on-traveler crime is one of the worst violations likely to be endured. I have nothing but utter contempt for these people.

Conversation

There is a common bond between backpackers that allows for conversation that even the most introverted person can casually initiate: Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going? When do you return home?

Around a third of people I encounter aren't actually sure what country I'm from. Part of it is a lack of people from the U.S. in certain places, some has to do with my behavior or European features, but the bulk is attributable to my accent (or lack there of) and the vernacular I use.

I've absorbed a lot of different words and expressions from countries traveled in, and the nationalities around me. Words and phrases from the different regions of the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, UK, Europe, and Australia have found their way into my day-to-day speech.

I'll reference things in meters and Celsius, occasionally call a refrigerator a chilla, say queue instead of line or wait, and pluralize the word vacation (How long are your vacations for?).

Where's Home For You?

Common introductions will inevitably include asking where someone is from. I often respond by saying I use to live in the United States (or in Arizona). This almost always baits the question, So, where do you live now? from the other party. I often smile and reply, And now, I don't.

Some people ask if I'm running away from something (a girl, job, police), or (most often) if it's because of my president. No, I say, I'm not into politics. I usually explain that I've lived a quarter of a century in the United States, and that I think the world's just too big to live there anymore. I tell them I plan on spending the rest of my days abroad.

I personally figured out what my greatest passion in life is, above all else—travel, and living abroad. With 673 countries, territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups, and major states and provinces in world, it isn't hard for me to focus on spending my remaining years (probably 50, if I'm lucky) living and/or traveling within them. It's not a lofty goal… I'm doing it right now.

Although I'm not trying to please or impress anyone, most folks seem to be pleased or impressed with this line of thinking—excluding my grandmother, of course, who keeps telling my mother's side of the family that I've got a several screws loose.

Life is short, do what's important to you.

Food and Water

I'm living proof that eating food from street vendors instead of in restaurants and drinking tap water is perfectly fine for you.

I trust meat that's cooked to my satisfaction in front of me; I don't drink the water if it looks or smells funny, or if the locals avoid it (such as in the Dominican Republic). I was hit with food poisoning from a restaurant in Peru. Unless you wash your own dishes with very hot or bottled water, and never eat food prepared by others, you're gonna ingest the water (limited as it may be).

Include Others

I can't read on buses (motion sensitivity)—20 hours in a bus would be hellish without music. Don't be anti-social though—share something personal (music) with your neighbor (especially if they're cute). Perhaps introduce them to the fancy thing you're carrying that doesn't need tapes, cd's, or a radio signal to pump out tunes.

Bait The Hook

If I ever want to have a good debate/discussion with a European or Aussie/Kiwi, all I have to do is bring up gun control (in the United States). That's a solid hour of time spent right there.

Intimacy

If the recipient is open and willing, I can bring a level of intimacy to the table that makes hours feel like days, and days like months of history together. I'm not talking about sex, I'm talking about the connection between people, or the bubble that forms around partners.

Travelers are so afraid and hungry for intimacy. With friends, family, and/or lovers left behind in a now distant land—there is a noticeable absence. Some travelers feel free and go wild, others withdrawn and/or lonely. Often times it's somewhat of a mix.

Backpackers are generally an outgoing subset of a given nation's population—especially folks from the United States, where it's not part of our culture to travel abroad. I tend to keep this in mind when formulating opinions (about the people) of countries I haven't visited, based on the travelers I encounter.

Thanks, Dad

This past year would have been a completely different experience if I hadn't had the support of my father. Dad has been in my corner, willing to help out with anything and everything I've thrown at him.

Signing over power of attorney before I left the U.S. enabled him to manage my finances (paying credit card bills, asset transfers between accounts, dealing with stolen credit card issues, doing my taxes), effectively removing the burden of such things from my life.

He's helped with research, assembled more than one package for me (running around Portland, Oregon, picking up supplies or ordering them off the Internet), alerted me to problems with Travelvice, and donated personal items (such as the HP Jornada I've been typing with) to my travels.

He continues to make my life infinitely easier.

Thank you, dad.

What's Next?

I'm honestly not sure what 2007 has in store for me. I've found it can often be hard (or wasted effort) to plan more than a few weeks in advance—things change too frequently.

Two events are for certain: Carnival in Brazil, and a flight off the continent. I'll be in Salvador in February for the big festival, and then I'll start moving towards an airport. I seriously doubt I'll be flying out of Brazil (expensive).

I have interest in seeing the northeastern part of Brazil, and possibly taking a boat trip half way up the Amazon River. If I do this I'll probably head north through the jungle mountains into Venezuela, for a flight out of the capital (although I have zero desire to see Venezuela at the moment).

My flight is either going to be heading east or west. The cheapest eastern flights will probably take me into Spain. I'd very much like to run with the bulls while I'm still in my 20's, so that I can be young and foolish when I do it (instead of just foolish). A flight west could find me in the Philippines, opening a hostel with Andy.

I honestly don't know. A lot will have to do with where the cheapest flights will take me. I have a strong desire to see many places in this world with my own eyes—especially those reported on the news in the past few decades (such as the Middle East). If I fly east, there's a strong chance I'll be well on my way in that direction this time next year.

What can I say, I'm a boat with a full sail, and no rudder. Where ever the wind blows me.

Related Year-1 Anniversary Writings

Comments:

David

December 12th, 2006

Congratulations Craig!

All of the best to you in the year to come. I wish you a long and prosperous traveling life and thanks for Travelvice!

Regards,
David
(Capetown, South Africa)

Glenn

December 12th, 2006

Craig,

Congratulations on completing one year of non-stop travel abroad. ONE YEAR!!! Damn, it's crazy just thinking about it…

You should be proud not only of your endeavor thus far, but for the path that you took to get here (wherever that may be :) ). A few years ago, you found something in yourself that you enjoyed – traveling, exploring, and in essence, living. A lot of people talk about wanting to "travel the world," yet few will act on those wishes. You had the dedication and diligence to make your desires come to fruition, and for that, I applaud you. There is no question that traveling, in its simplest terms, is not that difficult. You remember sitting on those chairs on the beach in Montezuma? "Jumping off waterfalls and napping on the beach…not a bad weekday, huh?" However, your budget-savvy (aka penny-pinching) traveling is undeniably strenuous at times, as is evident from your postings and my experience with you, and requires the same dedication and diligence that lead you to put that backpack on your shoulders in the first place. For this, I applaud you as well.

But for the most part, after all is said and done, I am proud to say that I have a crazy, vagabonding, eccentric brother that has been traveling the world for the past year, and will continue to do so for at least the next 2-3 years, but, if the past is a predictor of the future, will most likely never come back (at least for extended periods of time).

Congratulations, Craig, on this momentous occasion. I wish you clarity, happiness, and safe travels for many, many, many years to come. :)
Your brother,

Tom Heimburger

December 13th, 2006

Craig, I printed all 36 pages from your five posts today and just finished reading them at the kitchen table. It is now just about exactly one year to the hour since Glenn and I said goodbye to you at PDX. What I remember and what the photos from that night record is a somewhat frazzled, nearly bald-shaven young man anxious to push off and get started on a journey to who-knows-where and who-knows-for-how-long. It was tough to say goodbye not knowing when (or if) I’d see you next. I got up from the table and took a walk around our cold, rainy Portland neighborhood and tried to take stock of the past year of following you on Travelvice and email (and the occasional phone call). But all I could think about was that I have never been prouder of you than I am right now. Thank you for sharing your heart, your senses, well just about everything, with your readers, friends and family during this past year. And I know you have only been able to share maybe 1% of your the real experience with us. I think you have found your calling, Craig, and your posts and photos will be a treasure that we will enjoy all of our lives. And your descendents will treasure them too (“Wow, I just read great grandpa’s posts from May 2006 – what a cool guy he must have been and what a different place the world was!”). So a huge congratulations on your amazing first year abroad and the efforts you have made to share it with us. Windy and I pray every day for your safety but we also know that we have help from someone named Patricia who is keeping watch over you every step of the way. Happy trails, Sergio. All my love, Dad.

Ben Goldman

December 13th, 2006

Craig, I've been following your travels off and on for this past year, all the while planning my own (Nikol and I are one month away from Africa). I greatly enjoyed these anniversary posts, because I have been thinking about a lot of these same issues, albeit on a smaller scale. The Backpack Churn was especially enlightening. Best wishes to you. Hope you have a good Christmas and New Year. -Ben

T-Mobile

December 15th, 2006

I'm impressed with everything you have done this past year. You're easily one of the most amazing people I've ever met, and I consider myself lucky to have ever met a person like you. This is not the Craig that I spent 4 years of college with. You are no longer the Craig that just dinked around for a whole summer doing nothing and living off of diet Mountain Dew and playing computer games all night. I miss these times, but this is obviously where you were meant to be…and I'm glad you found it. Much love to ya.

JenFlom

December 22nd, 2006

Congratulations! Maja and I guessed you would only make it six months and I am very glad you proved us wrong. I have been following your posts since you left. I find it fascinating to read about your adventures. Work has sure changed a lot in the past year. Maja got married in August, I had a baby in October and Laura is having a baby in May. Take care and I look forward to another year of following your travels. Jen

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