When I was younger, around three or four years old, my mother asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. My answer was simply: ‘I want to travel the world and meet people.’
I don’t remember that conversation, but what I do remember is being extremely fascinated by photos in geography books. Children dressed in colorful indigenous clothing, walking alongside farm animals on the mountain trails in of some random country. I wanted to know them. They were so different from me and that fascinated me.
From the point of view of a child that had never left his suburban neighborhood of South Florida, the images in those photos could have easily been from another planet. They had goats to play with and hillsides to explore. I wanted to join them on their adventures.
Aside from regular trips upstate to Disney World or to visit relatives in St. Augustine, my family never had the opportunity or reason to leave Florida. At the age of 17, I finally left my hometown for the U.S. Marine Corps. I still had never seen a mountain or even a hill (Florida is quite flat). I had never seen snow or felt an earthquake. Outside of St. Augustine, there was barely more than 70 years of local history to learn. (Of course there were hundreds if not thousands of years of Native American history in South Florida, but sadly this history was and still is suppressed and not taught.)
Because I spent the first two decades of my life dreaming of mountains, castles, snow, and foreign lands, I now have a life-long passion for exploration and adventure that I will never be able to satiate. I have so much passion to see the world and to experience every type of culture, and I don’t know if it would be the same if I had been given access to all of these experiences in my early youth.
My new goal was to travel and I wanted to travel far. When I signed my contract to join the Marines Corps, I had a guarantee included in that agreement that I would be stationed in the farthest place I could think of, Japan.
My journey through life began as I boarded that bus to bootcamp. Since then I have made so many mistakes and indulged myself with at least a decade’s worth of self-destructive antics. The thing that always pulled me out the other side was realizing, once again each time, that there is a whole lot of the world I still need to see, so I needed to get my act together.
In 2015 I was working in the events industry in Dubai. Everything stops on the Arabian Peninsula between April and September, so I figured that this would be a good chance to go on a super-long hike. I had still never been to Europe, so I set out to cross Scotland, Spain, attend a wedding in England and then hike through Wales.
For decades I envisioned this trip. Images in my mind of long, gorgeous walks through the Highlands. Strolling on mountain trails with dappled light, filtered through overhead leaves, dancing on the dirt path before me. Breathing the exotic, European air. Euphoric in the mere fact that I was living out the adventures of my long-anticipated dreams.
In Scotland, I saw some of the most magnificent mountains. Bigger and more majestic than I had even imagined. In Spain I walked over 600 miles, immersed in many centuries of medieval history and architecture. In Wales, I saw lots of sheep.
However, my desire to travel and meet people had been replaced with a desire to travel and see things. Now that I am much older and I have traveled for many years, I can say I was so much smarter about travel at 4-years old than I was later in life, because at the very heart of travel, is meeting people and sharing a cultural experience.
The mountains, the beaches, the monuments, the tourist attractions, the history. These are the things that initially draw us places. But until you have met the people, you have not experienced the country.
When I think now of each of the countries I visited that summer, and the first thing I remember is the people that I met in each place.
When I think of Scotland, I remember the Bad Girls Club. A group of middle-aged Scottish ladies I shared a hostel with one night along the West Highland Way. An unholy marriage of a Tupperware party and an all-girl biker gang. Before I knew it I was drinking shots of Malibu rum with them and laughing until I had to retreat.
When I think of Spain, I remember: The ragtag group of random people I met on the Camino de Santiago. Every single photo I have of that epic journey reminds me of these dear friends… even if they are not in the photo.
When I remember Wales, I remember: the mother and son that took me on a spur-of-the-moment canoe trip on a stunning reservoir lake; the mayor of a historical village that met me at a pub and spoke at length and with passion about how much he loved his town and the people that lived there; and the family that found out it was my birthday and surprised me with a small cake and some hastily purchased Wales souvenir trinkets for gifts.
I will still research the places I go so that I can see as much as possible on my trips. But, no matter how much research I do, I now know that there is no sight or attraction on my journey that will mean as much to me as the people I will meet along the way.
It is oddly fulfilling that I finally learned to travel in a manner that I had originally set out to do as a child. “I want to travel the world and meet people.” It really all just comes down to that.
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