I’ve been abroad for nearly 14 months now. In that time, I can irrefutably tell you that this has been the most important, most exciting, most interesting 14 months of my life thus far. It would hard for it not to be, considering some of the changes I’ve made in my demeanor, my attitude, my behavior, my beliefs, my philosophy on life. I’m sure at some point after returning to a more ordinary lifestyle, I’ll think back on my dewy-eyed days as a long-term traveler with a little less romanticism. But for now, this trip is nothing but the best thing of my life.
I recently wrote on the rather about-face my trip has taken. From backpacking Asia as a beach bum, gorging on cheap street food — to sightseeing (and spending all my money) in Europe. I’m not sure whether this new stage of my trip could be considered an ending or a beginning but whatever it is, it feels like a rather big change. So in light of that, I wanted to take the time to reflect on my first 14 months of travel.
Just before setting out on my big trip, I wrote of the 5 reasons I want to travel around the world. Besides eating delicious foods and finding design inspiration, one of the reasons was to meet new and interesting people. Oh how little did I know back then!
Little did I know that it would be the people, not the places, who’ve inspired me, motivated me, pushed me past my limits and also grounded me. Ultimately it’s the people we meet, not always the places we visit, that unquestionably and unequivocally change our lives.
I’ve been lucky to meet so many people over the past year, more than I probably ever have. I put myself out there, pushed my boundaries, and because of that, I’ve been lucky to meet so many interesting people. Each person and each experience has taught me something new about myself, or made me realize something new, something different. And I’m the better person because of all of them, all of you.
Note: There are many people I’ve probably unintentionally left off this list. I’ve had so many experiences the past year, it’s been rather hard to remember everything. My journals are a little help, though also rather cryptic. I’ve listed all of the following from memory alone, in a semi-chronological/topical order. There are so many stories to be told from each of my interactions with all these people. Looking back, I realize how much I’ve actually changed because of so many of these untold stories.
So, without further ado, thank you to all the people.
First off, thank you to my friends and my family back home (both homes: Grapevine/Colleyville & Boston). Thank you for your love and your support, so often without me even ever asking for the attention or the help. Thank you to my former co-workers and friends at Pearson who believed in me and gave me more than enough opportunities to become the type of professional I want to eventually become again.
Thank you to the two British guys I met in Reykjavik in September 2009. They made me rethink many of my decisions which ultimately led to me taking this trip. It’s the why, the when and the how Iceland changed my life.
Thank you to Christian and Tecla who I met in Seville, who taught me not to waste my time in uncomfortable situations. To Brandy, Lillie, Diana & Nellie—friends I first knew online, but got to hang out with in Spain. Thank you to the French Erasmus students in Valencia who taught me to inhale. To the doctor in Cadiz who shamed me into feeling guilty about not speaking enough Spanish after four weeks in Spain.
Thank you to the editors and writers of the Lonely Planet Morocco guidebook, for reminding me I shouldn’t always trust the words of others. To the boy in Fez for helping me find a room and for the hookah tips. To all the British backpackers I met in Marrakesh who only fueled my desire to work as a designer in London.
Thank you to Liz, for traveling Egypt with me and being one of my best friends, despite our petty disagreements and arguments. To Sarah for the fun-filled few days we spent in Cairo together, and her suggestions for Israel. To Giuila for recommending the sunset at Al-Azhar Park, and to the group of kids who made a fool of me (but it didn’t matter, we still had fun). To Esther and her Egyptian friend for taking Liz and I around Cairo, and the late-night soccer match. To the owners of the restaurant in Cairo that graciously saved our table and enjoyed our company each night during the World Cup games. To the two guys who showed us around on our last few hours, and treated us to dinner & beers by the Nile.
Thank you to all the friends I met in Dahab, for traveling to Petra and Jerusalem together and a very relaxing week together. To Doug for indulging me in talk about WordPress (and then letting me know about the WordCamp Jerusalem event a few months later).
Thank you to Daniella, Yael, Chen and my friends in the Netsa’h Israel Street apartment: for being my second family and so much more. Thank you to Eyal for a million things, but mostly for letting me into your life and being there for me when I needed you.
Thank you to my friends at the Geneva Initiative: Michal for giving me the chance to try something new; Gilly, Hadas and Ortal for being good friends while I didn’t know what I was doing but still thinking I was awesome. Thank you to Meytal for sharing so many great experiences with me, the road trip, her family and listening to me when I finally started to open up.
Thank you to the man in the bar I met at Radio EPGB who made me hesitate, and that made me think. To all the unnamed boys and girls I met on random nights out in Tel Aviv. To Lily, Alisha and Theresa for being online when I needed to talk to someone. To Jokin and Jodi for the book recommendations on the Middle East; and to Liz, Dena & Lauren for the book email exchange list from over a year ago.
Thank you to the friends I met through Twitter in Israel: Meital for treating me to the Design Museum in Holon; Elad for the Hipster Haifa tips and good conversation; Natan for telling me where I could find a new Moleskine notebook; Ahuvah for all the interesting chats; RadioEPGB for the free drink (and always a good time).
Thank you to my Couchsurfing hosts in both Jerusalem and Haifa—for two very different experiences. To the man at the falafel stand in Tel Aviv for smiling every time I walked by, and for the extra sweets he’d slip me. To Alex, his friend, and my friend Dana for a very fun night out in Tel Aviv. To Matt for letting me crash his lunch meeting, and for inspiring an interesting political conversation even if it become too much for a fledgling friendship.
Thank you to Vivek for an amazing introduction to India, a camera and sharing his family with me. Thank you to Joy & Shalini for celebrating Diwali with me, and for the amazing home-cooked meals. To Vicku & Neha for showing me around New Delhi. To Arpit for taking us around Mumbai and even all the way to the Ajanta/Ellora caves. To the entire family in Aligarh, for sharing their home and all the wedding celebrations with me. To Pankaj for one of just a few birthday presents I received this year—a charm I still wear around my neck.
Thank you to all the more-than-kind strangers on the trains in India for sharing food, helping me when I was lost and watching over me without me ever even asking. To my less-than-kind tuk-tuk driver in Agra & the hotel owner there for ripping me off and teaching me a valuable lesson. To the friends & backpackers I met in India in different places like Khajuraho, Hampi, Munnar and Gokarna for sharing a lot of fun and random experiences.
Thank you to Leroy & Naaz in Bangalore for hosting Meytal and me over Christmas—one of my most memorable experiences. To Janelle and Andrea for Christmas dinner and meeting up in various cities across India. And of course to Meytal (again) for traveling so long with me, celebrating the holidays together, lots of good conversations and teaching me to really appreciate the Indian experience & culture.
Thank you to the French girl and British guy at the Bangkok Couchsurfing meetup, for talking of flowers and robot women—and reminding me strangers can sometimes know us better than ourselves. To Zoubin for showing me around Bangkok one crazy night. Thank you to Nam for lots of fun evenings out around her city, and for even meeting in Saigon as well.
Thank you to Kate for hanging out on Koh Chang and for several fun nights out in Bangkok. To Rob for suggesting drinking beers in a grocery store and taking us to our first ladyboy bar. To Kirsty & Poi, Mike, Ray, Ren and all the other people I met while celebrating Songkran in Bangkok. Thank you to Sally for convincing Eyal and I to stay on Koh Phi Phi instead of Phuket—where we had much more fun.
Thank you to the nudist in my hostel in Chiang Mai. To the friends I met on the slow boat to Laos who made Luang Prabang so much fun. To the owner of the Laos Garden restaurant there, the Gap Adventures tour guide and the other guys I met at closing time. To the bowling alley in Luang Prabang for being open late and allowing me to realize my dream of barefoot bowling. Thank you to Elana and her friends who helped me one especially bad night in Vang Vieng.
To the Korean woman & other backpackers I met at the Poipet border to Cambodia who made a bad experience into a good one. To my tuk-tuk driver in Siam Reap for putting up with all my requests. To the hotel owner in Battambang for ripping me off, but also to the bus station attendant in Phnom Penh for understanding my problem and helping to fix it. To the little boy in Sihanoukville for humbling me and reminding me of the incredible poverty in the world.
Thank you to the friends I met at Monkey Republic in Sihanoukville even though I never remembered your names or got your contact information. Thank you to James, the British backpacker who I met at JJ’s, for talking to me and making me start thinking about some important decisions that needed to be made. To all the people on Bamboo Island for a lot of fun but also a lot of peace & quiet.
In Kampot, thank you to all the friends I met at Bodhi Villa—Will, Beth, Peter, Min, Kristin, Hannah, Ben, Mark and more than a few others. Thank you for way too much fun than was probably appropriate and making me feel like a kid again! Thank you to the owner of the bar in Kampot for taking us on a boat to Rabbit Island, and for the amazing time we had there.
Thank you to Beth & Peter for stimulating conversation, again way too much fun, teaching me three is better than one sometimes and for putting up with my “whinging” all the way up through Vietnam.
Thank you to my family in Saigon for an amazing week of sightseeing and delicious meals. To the very friendly Wynn working at Sankara in Mui Ne, even though we didn’t get to chat much. To Tuan in Hue for my beautiful, new tattoo. Thank you to Jody & Steph for fun nights out in Hoi An and Hanoi (and for the couch offer in England). To all the random backpackers I hung out with in Hanoi, most from Hanoi Backpackers Hostel.
Thank you to all my blogging friends for inspiring me, teaching me, keeping me motivated and making me up my game. To all the people reading this blog, following along on Twitter or on Facebook, thank you for encouraging me and keeping me in line. To all the backpackers I’ve met however fleetingly who I shared a coffee or a conversation with and then never spoke to again or never caught their name, thank you for the transient memories.
Thank you to all the people.