As I was thinking about the past year, laying in bed slightly hungover from my 25th birthday bout, I couldn’t help but think how truly amazing it is to know how much we can do, experience, and change in a single year. My journey began a few days before “Superstorm Sandy” hit the NJ coast. I had been, as analysts would call, “underemployed,” as a bartender at an inlet-side bar and restaurant in Monmouth Beach, NJ. A few days before the storm, I went to visit a friend and my uncle in San Francisco and afterwards had nothing to come back to in terms of a job or electricity for that matter. The bar I worked out was completely under water. Gone, destroyed.
I pushed back my return flight and spent the next 2 months falling in love with San Francisco. Boy, is it beautiful. Not only the city, but it’s surroundings are amazing — Tahoe to the East, Santa Cruz/Monterey/Carmel to the South, the Redwood forests up North and the massive, and always lively Pacific to the West. Despite the infinite beauty, I needed to find a job to stay in San Francisco, so I spent those 2 months interviewing at Airbnb, Yelp, and OruKayak, to name a few. Unfortunately, each place felt I wasn’t the right fit or didn’t have immediate positions available so I came home to NJ for Christmas to think about what I really wanted.
I had always talked about living in Costa Rica and surfing every day but all I ever really did was talk about it. I had saved up enough money bartending while living with my parents for a couple of years, so one click on Jetblue.com and boom, Merry Xmas to me. I packed one backpack and a surfboard and went on my way.
With some Dutch friends near Pavones…the second longest wave in the world.
That was easily the hardest part of the past year traveling. Taking the jump. Why? It seems so stupid now. Why was I so afraid of doing the things I wanted to do most in life? I think it was mostly because, well, no one else does it. It takes courage to follow your intuition and heart. But, as the cliche goes, if you’re not taking those risks in life, then you’re not really living.
When you finally do take control and start jumping at those risks, you will never regret them, whether they pan out or not. It also empowers you to take more risks. Life gets a little more interesting, and why wouldn’t you? If you really want something enough you can do anything.
View from the 4-mile hike to the top of Zion National Park
In total I spent 3 months traveling through most of Costa Rica, and parts of Nicaragua and Panama. Ninety percent of the time I surfed 2 or 3 times a day. I was in the best shape of my life, met some amazing people I will never forget, and never felt more in tune with nature, my thoughts and the universe. I went to bed around 11pm every night and was up around 5–6am to surf. I went out to party probably 3–4 times in total and had a smoke only if some friends wanted to — there was no need, I was high on life. I developed a small portfolio website for myself, TravelDeveloper.com, along with a few others for shits-n-giggles. So, while I was out enjoying the world, I was also making sure to increase my skills in web development, a recent passion of mine.
I traveled through different countries with new friends, learned the ins and outs of making crepes and taught others how to surf. Of course, not all was peachy and perfect. There were times when sleeping all sweaty with mosquitoes having their nightcap at my disposal would really get to me. Stories of robberies and rapes stayed relevant in my thoughts. And as much as I love ‘casado de pollo’, rice and beans started to get old.
But, sometimes you have to make consolidations to get the experience you’re looking for when on a budget. And even with each negative you’d be surprised by how quickly you can get accustomed to different ways of life. In the end it makes you more appreciative for the everyday customs you do have (Ice cubes anybody? Yeah, they’re a little frozen piece of heaven).
Even the dogs are laid-back in Central America
Central America was really hard to leave. I’ll never look at traveling the way I once did: to get away to go somewhere better. Rather, now I realize it’s all about getting to somewhere different. Internally and externally. Learning about yourself and the places/people/culture you are visiting. The people you meet are just as beautiful as the scenery and make for the real memories that will last a lifetime. You can learn something from everyone. Every single person. It doesn’t matter how uninterested you are in them, how much smarter you think you are, how good/ungood looking they are, etc.
Everyone has different experiences with the world and that qualifies them to be a teacher. Some can teach you a lesson you never knew you could learn. Once you look at life that way, you’ll find excitement in things you never knew — it’s like watching life in HD!
Don’t be afraid or intimidated of meeting new people when traveling. As long as you’re open to the idea, you will have no problem. But, set yourself up for it. Stay in a hostel rather than the 5 times as expensive hotel. Eat at the bar rather than getting your own table. Offer to share a taxi with a stranger going to the same place (Unless they’re a little fast talking French guy at the Paris airport…Taken, anyone?). And always remember: there’s only one kind of person you can be better than…those who think they’re better than others.
A communal, fresh lobster dinner in Nicaragua with friends from around the globe
I knew I could have just stayed in Costa Rica, found a job and lived there for long while, but I got the bug. I needed to experience more, meet more people, and in different environments. I flew back to NJ and knew exactly what I needed to do.
Again, I talked and talked about driving around the country ever since high school. Sadly, the furthest I’d gotten was a big, blue squiggly line on Google Maps. Well, it took me a whole 6 days of being home to realize the opportunity may not present itself again and hopped into my small Scion Tc to head off around the US.
I loaded up with Costco granolas, fruit snacks, Clif bars, tons of water, a suitcase of clothes, a tent and of course my surfboard. My first stop was in DC for a reunion with my lifelong friend Nick and our college buddy Jake who had been living in Zambia for the past year and a half with the Peace Corps. This was the jumping point; I had $3000 left in my bank account and really no plans outside of my desire to experience our beautiful country. And what a country it is…
Taking a dip into the Rio Grande aka the Texas-Mexican border
The diversity of the United States is probably unmatched anywhere else on Earth. From the plains to the deserts and mountains to oceans and rain forests, all surrounded by culturally magnificent cities. Every area of the country has something to offer. Each one of the 12,500 miles proved so on my sporadic expedition. Seeing the impressive parts of the country leave you in shock and make you wonder how travelers like Lewis and Clark accomplished the things that they did with a fraction of the technology we have today. I guarantee you they would do it all over again in a second if they could, without changing a thing.
It’s not the end goal that makes things like traveling so mesmerizing. It’s everything in between — the journey if you will. Pictures or videos just can’t give you the aweing presence of nature’s beauty and power. And to feel a part of it is truly something special.
Somewhere along the majestic California coast.
I arrived back home after just under 2 months of traveling the US. In total, I roughly spent $1600 in gas, $200 in accommodations and $700 in food/drinks/activities. My sleeping arrangements ranged from friends in bigger cities, one stay using couchsurfing.org, hostels in cities where I didn’t have any friends, my tent in the National Parks, and most of all, my car in Walmart parking lots (yeah that’s totally a thing, usually people have campers though and not a car small enough to be classified as a Tonka toy).
The car looking like a toy next to a giant redwood in Redwood National Park, CA
So what did I learn this past year traveling around the America’s? Too much to put into words. I can tell you one thing for certain, I sure as hell don’t regret it. I originally wrote a “Here is my top 10 list of things I’ve learned traveling the past year”, but seriously? A top 10 list on life? It’s all been said and you know deep down what you need to do. But, ultimately, for those of you that like to follow a more regimented lifestyle, I’ll give you one suggestion. It’s really easy. One of the biggest steps I’ve found for happiness, success, traveling, etc. begins with this one simple task: