10 People Who Put Me on the Road

Today, a break from the travel norm. Something personal.

I’m not a fan of the ubiquitous top-10 lists that spring up like weeds on every travel blog, but this one — long overdue — needs to be written. A handful of people in this world made me the person I am, and I wouldn’t still be out here on the road had it not been for them.

To add a twist, the numbers are in Chinese finger counting — very useful for understanding numbers when you visit China!

Take it or leave it, I wouldn’t be vagabonding today if it weren’t for these people:


My Father

One of the toughest guys I know. From the age of seven, I was accompanying my dad in the woods on deer hunting trips. We froze our butts off together in the mud year after year and somehow he kept his patience while I systematically scared away every animal within a 10-mile proximity.

Dad taught me to love the woods and to respect the land, fish, and animals. He never misses a shot; I certainly wouldn’t want to pick a fight with him. He has honor. He’s also usually on hands and knees picking weeds out of a sizable garden to feed his family natural food.


My Mother

Also one of the toughest people I know, Mom has survived cancer three times, a two-month stay in the hospital with a burst appendix, and countless other pains that would have put another person down permanently. She is selfless; the type who worries more about inconveniencing people with hospital visits than her own survival.

Mom taught me to be kind, that money isn’t real, and has probably kept me out of jail more than once. She’s tried futilely to teach me how to cook on several occasions, but hey, some things are just impossible even for her.


My Grandmother

Granny grew up in the mountains, survived cancer when doctors were still using blacksmith’s tools, and could feed 15 people with only 30 minutes of notice. She lived on her own until age 90 and made an art out of defying doctor’s orders.

My grandmother was renown for being able to grow anything. You could bring her a dead stick and it would soon be covered with sprouting green buds. Her house would rival any botanist’s greenhouse, and her backyard was a literal jungle of plants, flowers, and birds.

Year after year my birthday gifts from Granny were giant books that absorbed many of my childhood hours. How to identify birds, North American wildlife, natural medicine cures, Native American medicines, and every other natural subject you can think of.


The IBM Board of Directors

Believe it or not, but at one point in my life, I actually enjoyed my network engineering job. The technical challenges were tough, to say the least. The experienced mentors on my team became like a second family to me. No surprise: I spent more time with them than my own family. I even learned the art of hacking and spent my last year at the company exclusively doing network security.

At some point, reality hit, and it hit hard. IBM began massive layoffs, cut benefits and raises, and even began forced, unpaid overtime for which they later lost a lawsuit and had to compensate the victims of their blatantly illegal scheme. The golden years were over. Meanwhile, despite the company’s continuous claims that times were tough and that the belt had to be tightened, stock prices shot upward and executives got six-figure bonuses.

Had the greedy men sitting behind some long, wooden table just kept their expectations to a digestible level, I may have never researched ways to escape the Rat Race. I may still be sitting in this cubicle waiting for retirement. [shudder]

Thank you, gentlemen, for gassing up your private planes one too many times — you opened my eyes.


Rolf Potts

The book Vagabonding by travel writer Rolf Potts was fatefully recommended to me by someone within the Bootsnall.com travel community — the place that hosted my first hey-Mom-I’m-still-alive travel blog. The book couldn’t have come at a more opportune time; it provided the spark that ignited years of bottled Fukitol built up inside of me.

The quotes, the mindset, and the message in Vagabonding made me realize that not chasing the American Dream was perfectly acceptable. Thank you, Rolf.


Hang loose, dude.

SLM Buddies and Family

Although I can’t tell you what the acronym stands for (and no, even Google doesn’t know), the adventure buddies of that organization — some of my closest friends — convinced me to join the U.S. Army in 1997. Prior to that we shared countless climbing/caving/camping/fishing/dangerous adventures together.

I learned many valuable travel lessons during my six-year stint as an artillery forward observer (13F). While I’ve never had to call in an air strike on anyone while backpacking — there were times I wished I could — I did learn teamwork, first aid, survival, how to carry ridiculously heavy loads, how to miss a few nights of sleep, and how to not complain on 15-hour bus rides full of stinking people.

Now, most of the SLM guys have managed to settle down and convince good women to reproduce with them. But those men are still one of the few reasons I visit home each December.


Jason LaChance

This guy will probably spill coffee on his keyboard if and when he ever reads this.

While saving money and planning my escape in late 2005, I had already purchased a Loney Planet South America and had begun planning my route that started in Patagonia and ended in Costa Rica.

One random, unexpected night at my local pub changed my plans — and my life. I only knew Jason through the Irish pub where he worked. He had just returned from a month in the Thai islands. I listened to him talk about his experience — to this day I can’t remember what he told me! — and something buzzed inside of my head; a switch was flipped.

I went home that night around 3 a.m., put the South America guidebook away, and promptly bought a one-way ticket to Thailand — a country I literally knew nothing about. Just one small example of how a single conversation can change your life. Had I not made the switch to Thailand, I never would have met the people that I met in 2006, and possibly would have never fallen in love with them, Asia, or travel.

Jason later married one of my close friends. Imagine.


You Readers

Ok, I may be sucking up a little bit, but if it weren’t for people actually reading this rubbish, I would have never landed my first travel writing and photography gigs, couldn’t sell any advertising on my backpacking website, and wouldn’t be earning my Thai bucket money by running the New York Times’ GoAsia site for About.com.

I’d probably be sitting under a bridge writing this post on scrap paper while I ate beans out of a can.

I’ve got a folder full of emails from kind readers who have stuck with me over the years, and we have formed real-life friendships even. Those encouraging emails always seem to come in on the hard days when the road is kicking my ass — thank you!


Andrew Walker and Shaun Stratford

Andrew took a big chance and hired me to blog and photograph in Mexico for one month in 2007. Despite barely surviving a month of partying with 5,000 spring breakers, it turned out to be my first paid assignment, gave me something to put on a CV, and fueled my dream of writing for a living. Andrew also left me unsupervised in a house on Acapulco Bay with a swimming pool.

Shaun was a fearless-yet-laid-back Canadian photographer with a mohawk who actually showed me how to use my new SLR camera. His on-the-job lessons came in handy later for making a dollar or two to pay for an expensive travel habit!


My Friends

This is really risqué and really not fair. There isn’t enough time to credit everyone, but these old friends made big contributions to my vagabonding ways:

  • Andy – for introducing me to Celestine Prophecy, teaching me what an ENTP was, and that hippies really are cool.
  • Peace Corps Jessica – for teaching me how to care for people, confirming that hippies are cool, and for making me not afraid of grizzly bears in Alaska.
  • Amanda – for giving me a place to crash in Portland and for telling me about the Shaolin kung fu school I attended in China. I’m still not sure if I should hug her or throw something at her. She’s pretty good with a sword, so I should probably stick to the hugging.
  • Hacker Rick – for teaching me that if something isn’t broken, it’s just because you haven’t tinkered with it enough. This world is here to dissect.
  • Dr. Becca – for editing my New York Times application articles and for teaching me that I still don’t know sh*t about grammar and punctuation. Obviously.
  • Roy and Lina – for inviting me to a remote part of Indonesia, undoubtedly one of my wildest travel adventures.
  • Shivani – perhaps my most esoteric travel experience, this yoga teacher I met in China reminded me that there are energies in this world that we still can’t explain. I couldn’t stop shaking when she was in the room.
  • Name omitted — You know who you are — for being the yin when I was burning too hot and for reminding me that love still exists in this crazy world.

OK, I give up. Definitely way too many to mention, so I’m pressing the publish button before I scrap this whole project.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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8 Responses to “10 People Who Put Me on the Road”

  1. I read the Celstine Prophecy…at least the first book years and years ago. This is a nice reflection.

  2. Nice post and congrats for the blog. It’s been since 2005 right? I just hoped you could post more regularly.


  3. ”Chivani – perhaps my most esoteric travel experience, this yoga teacher I met in China reminded me that there are energies in this world that we still can’t explain. I couldn’t stop shaking when she was in the room.”

    I’d like to know more about this if possible. 🙂 What kind of energies? Energies experienced in our brains? How can one know if the experience comes from the brain or from something ”outside” the brain when all we have to perceive things with are… well, our brains?

    It’s not that I’m refuting any ”energies that we can’t explain”, it’s just that I think it’s very difficult (if not impossible at this time) to know if these ”energies” is an experience happening inside peoples heads or if it actually has anything to do with the world/universe around us.

  4. A Martin, in response to your comment, we are all One, so everything on the outside is in fact on the inside. but our highest perception feature as a human is not our brains (manomaya kosha). It is our intuition (vjnanamaya kosha), is more connected to the soul than the ego (individuality).

    We need to refine and purify our perceptions of our experience, become more sensitive to what is “really there”. opening up the portals beyond our cognitive senses.

    while most people cant or dont experience the more subtle vibrations that are affecting their experience consciously, that does not mean that they are not there, it just means that they have not yet opened up the gate inside of themselves to perceive these more subtle vibrations of existence.

    i hope this helps.
    namo narayan


  5. Thanks for your reply Shivani.

    I see what you’re saying, but I still don’t see that there’s a difference between imagination and what you’re claiming is real. It all happens in our heads, right? I understand there are things happening in the brain that can be experienced if one ”digs deep” (I’ve been having some seemingly strange experiences myself at the border of being awake and being asleep), but I still don’t see how that is ”proof” of a soul or spirituality or anything really. How can we know what we feels is ”real” anywhere except for in our heads?

    I mean if you in your head is convinced something is true, in a way it is (for you) but that doesn’t mean it has to be true for the ”objective” world around us or for anyone else.

    ”while most people cant or dont experience the more subtle vibrations that are affecting their experience consciously, that does not mean that they are not there, it just means that they have not yet opened up the gate inside of themselves to perceive these more subtle vibrations of existence.”

    Maybe. But how can you be sure that is ”the way things really are” and not just an illusion in your head? How can we separate something that show itself as an experience of the mind from a fantasy? How can we know it’s ”real” and for everyone?

    Are all dreams that happen during night ”real” in a way? They all have som base in ”reality” since we’re all one? I’m just wondering how the reasoning goes.

    Also, I wonder what is the point of this world of in a way ”non-conscious consciousness” if ”the real world” is something ”more” and ”better”? Is it some kind of design decision by some being?

    Sorry, it became a lot of text and many unstructured question.

  6. I love this narratives of Top 10s, very humanly and sincere. As I read through, the song “The Climb” sounds off from the distance, this is by far the best read I have had on a travel blog.

    Cheers Greg. 🙂

  7. Hi..loved the top 10 list, very funny but obviously sincere. Have dabbled in travel in the past, never for long periods but had some great times…memories that you get to keep..encased in glass like those nice paperweights! (you know what I mean)

    I will travel again, this world is too interesting to ignore. It saddens me when I hear of folk who would love to travel and go see things, but are far too occupied on worrying about pensions etc. I dunno about you but sitting at my local bar, drinking and wondering ‘what might be’ is damaging to the soul.

    I dunno, anyone reading this who hasnt ever travelled? look..your life only goes forward, the richest person on the planet cant buy back ONE millisecond of life…focus on that fact, stop spending on whatever it is you are wasting money on..and plan a bit..then go do it!

  8. WOW! I had a very similar coming to reality story. Working at a software firm in the Bay Area made me realize two things:

    1. I HATE not seeing winter weather. It was my personal hell being stuck in a place that I had to drive to see 4 seasons.

    2. I felt that I was getting more frustrated and provided less opportunities.

    My wife and I both stepped back and looked at what we were doing. Was the money worth it? Were we happy? In the end, we weren’t and made the decision to make the jump into the small business world.

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