Friday, August 5, 2016

4 Months, 3 Continents, and No Idea What I'm Doing

I have sometimes been known to make massive, impulsive decisions. On the surface, it may seem like I'm a bit of a fickle bitch who changes his life on a whim (and that's probably a totally fair accusation), but in retrospect, all of the monumental, life-altering things I've decided to do on a moment's notice were things that I had, in fact, thought about for ages--deciding to do them was more of a process of admitting to myself that I already knew what I was going to do.

So when, last September, one of my jumbled, half-realized shower thoughts was "hey, I wonder what it would be like to travel on the Trans-Siberian railroad?", I probably ought to have known what was coming--something large and perhaps very silly.

And this is how it started--I hopped out of the shower, searched 'Trans-Siberian Railroad' on google images, and got this:
Image: The Man in Seat 61
Check this site out if you want to lose literal hours from your day.

My eyes turned into little hearts, and it took me about 3 seconds to decide what I was doing with the rest of my day. Fourteen hours later (geez I can get some wacky tunnel vision), I had finished a rough draft of a trip plan that would take me overland from London to Singapore. It would be presumptuous to say the rest is history--the rest is thus far mostly relegated to me looking at train schedules while listening to weepy hipster alternative--but that map was the seed that led me from woozy, early-morning shower delusions to an actual, honest-to-God, already-bought-the-plane-ticket, four month, three continent travel blitz. It will be, in short, an adventure.

Asking why is, maybe, a bit of a futile (and/or self-explanatory) exercise. The assumption I get from far too many people is that I'm going in order to find myself, or my place, or some such other Eat-Pray-Love silliness. To paraphrase Dr. Jeff High-- "don't go looking for yourself--you'll turn up eventually." I don't need to go find myself (turns out I've been here all along); I want to go find the world. I'm 26, my job is to teach people about other cultures, I spend every day surrounded by a gaggle of international colleagues, but I've been out of the country exactly once. The culture tidbits I share with my students are based on hearsay. My conception of the world is one based entirely on what I hold in my head. 

And that's balls. I want firsthand experience that the world is a big place, and beautiful, but ultimately too exhausting to live in. I want to throw myself giddily into the current and figure out the details later. I want, simply, a bit of perspective. 

So here's the plan: four months, 22-27 countries (still working details): 2 months in Europe, 2 months in Asia. Basic route is as follows:
-fly into London January 15th
-move on for 10 days in Germany--visit the friends I have there, try to get a general idea of what the hell I'm talking about when I talk about Germany
-France next--Paris, visiting a friend in southern France
-Barcelona--arguably the city that I'd most like to visit in the world, in which a good friend/fellow German MA survivor happens to live (whoo)
-Italy--because sometimes clich├ęs are acceptable
-big ol' gap: I've got a good two weeks to fill. Options include Morocco (3 continents! Northern Africa! *swoon*), Greece, eastern Europe (this takes in a wide swath including Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Turkey, Hungary, and the Czech Republic--we'll see what I have time for)
-hauling ass to Moscow, hopping on the Trans-Siberian railroad to Beijing, with brief stopovers in Irkutsk and Ulaanbataar
-meeting my mom in China (long story short: last year, I promised my mom that I would take her to China, because she was convinced she would never go, and that the time for big adventures in her life was past. She thought I wasn't being serious. I was.)
-hopping over to Japan, a place I've wanted to go back to for a decade, and visiting friends
-stopover in Hong Kong to (you guessed it) visit another friend
-drag my exhausted, weeping corpse through Vietnam and Cambodia for a couple weeks
-the finish line--Bangkok if I'm feeling lazy, or four days of detoxing in Indonesia if I'm feeling ambitious.

I've still got details to iron out, but that's the skeleton. And I'm thrilled. And terrified. And really not sure how I'm going to make it work. But hey--I'll figure it out. And if not, I'll do better next time.

So--exactly 24 weeks from today I'm getting on a plane. In the next four months I need to:
-buy a plane ticket back to the US (this should probably be a priority...)
-start the long process of booking hotels/hostels/couches
-book trains early (particularly important for Trans-Siberian Railroad and China)
-apply for 5 different visas
-come up with a financial plan that somehow allows me to use up to 15 different currencies in the space of 110 days (that'll be a blast)
-figure out how to pack for four months in one backpack--good luck packing for Siberia in winter as well as Vietnam in May
-take out a (small) loan so that I can actually finish financing this whole thing (hey, I'm young, the time for crippling debt is now)

So, uh, no pressure.
(also, as an aside, I need to finish writing and then defend my Masters Thesis, teach two new classes that I've never taught before, apply for PhD programs, and move to a different state, but hey, who's counting?) (I am) (I'm counting) (someone should probably come hit me with a car)

So there you have it. Four months of profoundly silly, probably ill-advised travel, just for fun. If you have any suggestions on things to do/see on the way, or ways to solve any of the million bureaucratic messes I have ahead of me, or will be somewhere on my route and want me to stop by and say howdy, let me know! Clearly I need as much help/advice as I can get, so have at.


  1. This is a fantastic idea and it makes me happy just to think about it. And meeting your mom in China! You're good peeps. As for advice: take a good book so you can escape into it when things get overwhelming, which I'm sure they will at times! Best cure for culture shock.

  2. This. Is. Amazing. It's great to know that your weeping corpse will be relatively near my weeping corpse! If you want a travel buddy while you're going through Europe, I just might burn down my school and go to Barcelona with you.

  3. Thanks everyone! I will *definitely* be making plans to be in the vicinity of your school (or elsewhere/wherever you are in February?)!