Sitting here in my mother’s living room, I can’t help but constantly reflect on my experiences abroad and what they mean to me. While I may not have been gone as long as I anticipated, my only goal for this trip was to “go to the Isle of Skye” and everything else after was extra. So in that sense, my travels were many times more satisfying than I thought they would be. And for that, I am extremely grateful. And all this introspection has led to me feeling the need to make another post about the lessons I’ve taken from my experiences and share them with you. I hope to inspire as many people as my last “Lessons” post did.
First off, now that I’m home and have my old computer back, I can edit my photos and make them look even more beautiful like the way I perceived them in person. Exciting! I’ve picked out all my favorites and will be posting them here. There are alot, so have another.
One thing that surprised me while staying at Drew’s in Germany was how much people care about and support other people’s dreams. Readers from this blog donated over $700 to my travels just so they could hear more stories about my adventures and maybe even to learn more from my lessons. Like I said, I didn’t initially like the idea of asking for money, but there was something else that didn’t sit well with me about it either. Don’t get me wrong, I am beyond grateful for the donations, but I felt like somewhat of a hypocrite telling people to save their money for their dreams unless I need it instead. I even talked to some of the people who sent me money and used the word, “hypocrisy,” when referring to them telling me that I inspired them to start saving money for their own adventure, and then they turned around and spent money on me. I felt kind of bad. Why is it that in my experience, people are more likely to support someone else’s dream instead of commit to their own?
Most of these people can’t just get up and leave their homes because of family, kids, or some other commitment that I don’t understand yet. It’s one of those situations that I don’t have any advice or even a response for. I don’t know what to tell you about your kids and maybe there’s nothing to say. They know something I don’t, and that’s the sense of having their own home and family to be responsible for. So maybe the people I can help most are the ones that haven’t made those life commitments yet. So if you’re in that demographic, please, I urge you. Do it now, whatever it is, before life happens before your eyes and it’s too late. It happens to everyone and it will happen to you if you let it. The only time that matters is now. (I can’t say it enough.)
That’s not to say that if you’re in that other group of people that literally cannot leave home for any reason, you can’t find happiness or fulfillment. As I’ve said multiple on here, it’s all about attitude and making the best out of your current situation, regardless of what it is. To be able to do that in a situation most would consider to be undesirable is to be truly happy.
So basically, thanks for the money, but I wish you spent it on your own dream. Do that from now on.
While drinking my free iced frappe at the Studio Arabas in Thessaloniki, Costa was showing me the best places in town to go see. I asked what was the best route to get to the tower in the northeast part of Old Town. He asked what I meant by “best.” I said, “The quickest.” He said that the quickest was the ugliest way and showed me the main road I could take to get there. Then I asked what the prettiest way was and he showed me on my map the way I could walk through Old Town through the different churches and following the ancient wall surrounding the town. I smiled, thanked him for the tip and took the long way.
I think it’s pretty easy to assume that I took this as a metaphor for life. When you start a project or are just completing a mundane task like driving home from work, it’s all too easy to just get on the highway, yell at everyone on your way there, then pull in to the driveway annoyed, watch TV, read Facebook, then go to sleep. What a life. From time to time, I’d leave work or home just stressed out for whatever reason and would go on a scenic drive around Lake Hefner with my music turned up, and you know what? I felt alot better afterwards. There’s an old saying that goes a little something like, “Stop and smell the roses.” The next time you’re walking somewhere and see some flowers, I want you to literally stop walking and smell them (now that allergy season is over). Every time I leave a building I stop to look at the clouds or the trees around me, feel the breeze, and just appreciate it for a second. I feel much better doing this than when I used to just walk around with my head down only thinking about what I have to do next. Afraid you’ll look silly? Who cares? Remember, all that matters is how you feel. That’s why positivity and appreciation are so important.
Some of the lessons I have this time aren’t as philosophical as my last “Lessons” post. This one is just kind of a tip for the longing drifters like me out there. When going from town to town without a plan or anything, it’s pretty easy to get caught up or excited with moving on that you don’t give yourself enough time to enjoy the place you’re currently in. For example, when arriving in Greece, I knew I wanted to go to Bulgaria next so after booking my hostel for the night, I found the bus station and bought my ticket out of town for the next day. I figured I’d explore the town during the day then go to the part of town Costa showed me to take in the Greek nightlife. I didn’t want to spend too much time there as I was looking forward to getting to a much less expensive place so that my travels would last longer.
Well here’s what ended up happening. After waking up at 3am to catch my 6am flight and walking all day in the sun, I was exhausted that evening when I was relaxing at the hostel. And then I passed out for twelve hours. I missed out on seeing alot of the sights I wanted to see because I had a bus to catch the next day. I though I had given myself enough time, but I didn’t account for sleep. So don’t do that when you get out there. We only have so much energy and you’ll regret not giving yourself enough time to explore a beautiful city. I know, I know, drifting is cool, but there’s nothing wrong with staying in a place a little longer to truly appreciate it. That’s why we went there in the first place.
I did realize some things wandering the streets of Greece and Bulgaria though. The world most of us live in is full of “First World Problems” and it’s hard to understand the real struggles that are going on in other parts of the world. Greece is going through a really rough time with their economy right now and a third of adults under 27 are unemployed. There are no jobs and the few businesses that are still operational are disappearing quickly. So many buildings are vacant and vandalized. Graffiti everywhere. I didn’t understand why until Nick, from Denmark, explained it to me while walking back from lunch. I’m not going to give you a global economy lesson, but don’t take your community for granted. You have a job? You have a home? A car? Air-conditioning? Food? You’re better off than many people not only in Greece, but your own city. So next time you feel the need to complain about you losing a charger chord or someone being mean to you, it’s time to stop and just be grateful for a second. Look around you. I guarantee there’s something to appreciate that someone else in the world would literally kill for. Don’t take it all for granted just because something trivial isn’t going your way.
I took some things for granted during my bus travels. On the bus from Greece to Bulgaria, I thought it was kind of boring at times and was annoyed at the poor movie selection. I didn’t understand why one of the drivers would only give out soda and not water to the passengers. Then I experienced the ride from Bulgaria to Germany. I missed the personal TV with movies in English. I missed the free refreshments. There was only one far away screen and it was in Bulgarian. The person in front of me and behind were constantly speaking in a language I couldn’t begin to understand and I was feeling kind of lonely. Then I experienced the ride from Florida to Oklahoma. I missed not having someone sit next to me on the bus so I could stretch. I missed the single TV playing a movie. I missed not being able to understand the petty complaints spewing out of these people’s mouths.
Looking back at all those trips, the ride from Greece to Bulgaria now seems like a first-class pampering. I had a personal TV, free drinks, snacks, and all the space I needed. The ride to Germany wasn’t crowded so I still had my space and I still had the entertainment of movies being played during the day. I took every single one of the things for granted at the time I had them. “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” and all that. But maybe it goes a bit farther than that. On the bus ride to Germany, after I was disappointed by the conditions, what if someone had said, “These compromises are also blessings you don’t recognize yet,”? The Bulgarian bus line to Germany had qualities that were less desirable than the qualities the Greek bus to Bulgaria had, therefore I was disappointed. But really, the less desirable qualities in the Bulgarian bus line were still blessings. This is because I had yet to experience the Greyhound bus line. After the first 12 hours with Greyhound, I had missed the once-disappointing qualities of the Bulgarian bus line. It’s hard to explain, but I hope you get what I’m trying to say.
All of that to say, when a new development comes along in your life that seems undesirable or disappointments you, remember to have faith in positivity and the fact that these negative developments could very well still be blessings. They may only seem bad because you’re comparing them to something else in your head, making the situation worse than it really is. So I’m going to try to stop comparing things and just keep the positivity flowing.
I’ve been following the positive path of adventure and it led to some awesome experiences, as well as a few dangerous ones. But you know what? The dangerous experiences are the ones I find myself thinking back on the most with pride. It was something difficult or scary that I’d never done before. The feeling after doing it or sitting down to write about it in my journal is one of accomplishment. I may have overcame a personal fear or impressed myself with how I handled completely unknown territory. Like relying on strangers, for example. Since we were kids we were told not to talk to strangers. But I’m so glad I broke that rule pretty much every day because I don’t think I would have gotten very far otherwise.
Even after being shown the negative side of strangers at a Bulgarian bus station, I kept faith in myself and others and didn’t stop talking to people I don’t know. If I hadn’t accepted a ride from a random guy driving down the road in Kraimorie, I wouldn’t have met Valentine, who made me coffee at his place and let me use his computer for as long as I needed to and then drove me to the Burgas bus station to buy a ticket out of there. My blog is full of stories about how wonderful complete strangers can be. Richard, Sue, Charles, Lucie, Fabien, Jordan, Renee, Martin, Nicolas, Andrea, Melanie, Jan, and so many others are all people that made my trip as special as it was and it all started with a simple introduction, and maybe a thumb.
That’s another potentially dangerous thing I’m glad I did. Hitchhiking is so “dangerous” where I am that most people gasp at the idea and have urged me not to do it. But when I got out there and tried it for myself, I saw that this might be another thing we’re told all our lives and that maybe it’s okay to question it. And I’m happy I did. More than just because it was a free form of transportation, or because I made friends doing it, but because it makes for a better story. That’s what I’m after. Look at the title of the blog. “And then I conquered my extreme fear of heights and walked out on the ledge to get to higher ground. And I even looked down,” is a much better story than, “And then I avoided the situation because it scared me and I wasn’t sure of the outcome.” Heck, I’d even prefer, “And then I passed out and got robbed in Bulgaria,” over, “And then I sat on the couch and looked at my phone for an hour.”
In an attempt to keep my story away from couches and phones, I decided to go to the cheapest country in Europe to make my donations last as long as possible. But the cheapest country in Europe is the cheapest for a reason. I knew the coastal cities of Bulgaria would be different, but I had no idea how run-down the place would be. I haven’t talked much about it because it’s hard for me to describe parts it without being negative. I wouldn’t say that it’s a Third World country, but it’s definitely not First World. When everybody you see is either poor or homeless and the grey, abandoned buildings are all you see for days, the best thing for morale might be to move on. I know this lesson isn’t that philosophical, but yeah, you get what you pay for.
Now I’m not trying to say that you can’t have fun in Bulgaria. I personally believe you can have fun in any situation. Even the bad ones. You just have to train your brain to get past negativity and create your own positivity. Here’s one of those times I’m referring to. I’ve recently been robbed, my trip is suddenly over, nobody speaks English, and I don’t know if I’ll have enough money to get home. I’ve been walking around slums for days, it’s been raining all day, and all I have to look forward to is five days straight of travel. Yeesh, what a whiner. Sounds like someone needs some time to just relax and get his head on right. After the rain let up, I grabbed my camera and headed to the beach one last time. I felt alot better afterwards and I’m glad I did it. I made a video and just talked about what was on my mind. I say that it’s one of those times when it’s okay to just forget all the bad things and just enjoy what’s going on in front of you.
Sometimes we might be so hurt, stressed, or confused, that we just lose our way. It happens. It’s part of the human experience. In my last “Lessons” post, I talked about how important those situations are. When the universe is stacked against you and things are so bad it seems wrong to be happy, that’s when it’s most important to practice positivity. So the next time you feel the world crashing around you, just step away for a little bit. Be alone or do something you like and just take the time to enjoy the present moment for a while. I know some people say it’s not healthy to just forget your problems, but there’s nothing wrong with clearing your mind to regain a little sanity and happiness.
Here’s another unphilosophical piece of advice. Taxis are a ripoff. I paid a guy $15 to take me from Burgas to Kraimorie, then another guy $8 to go back. Then I figured out the bus system and realized that the same trip on a bus is 50 cents. UGH. Just a heads up. The buses are where it’s at.
But guess who found something positive about being ripped off my taxi drivers! Me. I was walking from my shack back to the village to try and find the bus stop for the first time when a group of people asked me what I was looking for in almost unintelligible English. When they figured out I was trying to get back to Burgas, that’s when one of the guys offered to take me there for less than taxis. I asked if he was a taxi driver and he just pointed at his beat up old car. I took him up on the offer (because i had yet to realize that buses were FIFTY CENTS), and he tried to talk to me the whole way there. His name was Kari and he was actually very helpful. He took me to their grocery store and showed me where to get the cheapest beer and gave me more advice about the town. A couple days later, I saw him on the street and he recognized me, waved, and yelled something. I got to look cool, wave, and yell back. So there it is. I got valuable information, got a new friend, and I got to look cool to the locals. Ha!
Now Kari didn’t seem like the nicest guy in the world at first glance. He was older, had a black beard, and kind of a shady car. Some might even look down on me for getting into his car with him. But why? Because you’re judging a book by its cover? Good thing we all understand that things are never what we expect them to be. Like Valentine, the big Bulgarian that offered me a lift to his place to use his computer. Most people would probably say no, but he was one of the nicest and most helpful people I’ve ever met. And I got to meet his entire family who made me drink out of a 2-liter bottle of Bulgarian whiskey. And don’t forget about the group of drunken hooligans who accosted me in the middle of the night in the streets of Frankfurt. If I hadn’t stopped to talk to this rowdy group of seemingly dangerous degenerates, I wouldn’t have gotten a private tour of the city and laughed all night.
Just because someone might seem rough or unpleasant, doesn’t mean they are. Give people a chance. It might be the most helpful decision you ever make.
That whole, “judging” thing goes both ways though. On my last night in Bulgaria, I had all my travel plans paid for and all I had to do was wait for a 1:30am bus. I decided to eat at a fancy restaurant and have a nice meal before heading home. So I walked around downtown Burgas for a long time looking for a good place. Most restaurants were bars that were watching the World Cup, but I found a few “fancy” ones. The fanciest was called, “Malibu,” and I went all out. I got a tasty beverage, a sausage dish over bread, and a side of “bread crisps.” It was disgusting. The servers were annoyed that I didn’t speak Bulgarian and the food was so gross I couldn’t keep going after I’d only eat a third of one of the dishes. So I finished my drink, paid the fortune of a bill ($5), and left.
…and then I got a hotdog down the road for a dollar and it was amazing. I’ve told this story on here before, but it has different context this time. I had judged Malibu as a place I wanted to eat because of how it looked. I thought, “Well if this place has the most decorations/displays and the nicest patio set up, it has to be good!” But not only was the food better at the tiny stand down the street, the guy working it was much friendlier and even gave me free fries. So while judging that a person or place is shady or undesirable (strangers on the street) could make you miss out on some of your to-be favorite experiences, judging that a person or place is special just because it looks good on the outside could easily lead to a disappointing experience. So let’s all just stop judging, yeah? Might be impossible, but I’m working on it and I’m liking the results so far.
Why is it that the most busy places in a town are the new downtown areas? It’s true everywhere. It’s where the trendiest shops are, all the most advertised restaurants are, and therefore, where all the action is, right? Not really. I’ve been all over the new and old parts of towns all over the world and the best places I’ve experienced are the “old parts” of town. In Thessaloniki, the best hostel, restaurants, views, and people were all hiding in the beautiful streets of ancient Old Town. That’s where I met Nick, Nahweed, and Costa. And it Frankfurt, you have to cross a river leading away from downtown to get to a street that looks like Diagon Alley from Harry Potter and that’s where all the fun is. The pub that’s been making Apple Wine since 1291. The hookah lounge showing the soccer game to hundreds of screaming Germans. The group of kids celebrating the end of exams with strangers. Sure, it’s off the beaten path, but that’s exactly where I want to be. Think about your home town. Do you like to chill at your own local hangout spot with your friends? Maybe a place that’s not too busy? Or do you prefer to go to a downtown Chili’s or some other chain full of shoppers and worn out employees? Then look for the Old Town. It’s awesome.
While in the “old” part of Frankfurt, I experienced the world-wide craze of soccer, or “football.” Before that night I had never actually watched a whole game. I had seen the game and walked away within a few minutes of watching the guys run around and accomplish nothing, but never just sat down to watch one. But the street was lined with televisions and people watching them getting excited and having a blast. So I decided to join them. And it was alot of fun. Drinking a 700 year old apple wine recipe and cheering on whoever the yellow team was had left me with an unforgettable memory. So one lesson I learned was that under the right circumstances, soccer can be exciting.
But not too long after the soccer game ended, everybody returned home or to their hotels and the bars started closing. I didn’t have a hotel so I bought a Doner sandwich and just walked down the street until I found a friendly-looking outdoor hookah lounge. I sat down to pass the time and noticed that the place was full of people who were middle-eastern. They were all speaking other languages and I was quiet in the corner. But when the server who knew a little English came by and asked me about where I was from, the guy sitting next to me told me he was also from Oklahoma. He was going to school in Weatherford but was born in Saudi, and we spent the rest of the establishment’s open hours talking about our travels and life back home. His name was Omar and he gave meaning to the phrase, “It’s a small world.” After meeting a fellow Oklahoman at a German hookah bar at 2:00am, take it from me, it really is.
I wouldn’t have learned that if I hadn’t followed through on the previous lesson: Abandon fear and shyness. Because just a few minutes after saying bye to my new Saudi Arabian friend, I was introducing myself to a group of strangers on the sidewalk. I’m going to try my hardest to keep being so outgoing and willing to just start talking to people I’ve never met before in public. It’s not very common nowadays, but after experiencing the upside to just not caring and going for it, I don’t want to go back to my old ways. I don’t need to repeat how many new friends I’ve made because of abandoning fear shyness. Friends I still talk to and will stay in contact with for the rest of my life and probably visit the next time I’m abroad.
But because I had expected a short walk back to the bus station after the bars closed, I had put my boots in storage with Gautama and was only wearing the 1 Euro flip flops I bought in Greece. After that evening turned into an all-night walking tour, my feet were killing me. I had a bad limp all the way to the airplane because of it and regretted putting away my boots. Good thing the trip was about over. So here’s another travel tip: Always be ready for a long walk.
And, of course, the overarching lesson I felt teaching me the whole time was Positivity. I really put my ability to find positivity in every situation to the test on this last leg or my adventure. From lack of sleep cutting my Thessalonian experience short, to getting robbed in Sofia, to getting rained on, ripped off by taxis, isolated from conversations, and being crammed into a series of worse and worse buses, I can say with more confidence than ever that I am a positive person.
So now when I’m faced with the minor annoyances of “normal” life, it’s easier than ever for me to shrug them off and keep my good mood going. Traffic’s terrible? More songs for me to sing to. Someone was rude to me? It felt good walking away from them to go have fun and enjoy myself. Someone cancelled our plans to hang out? You know I’m always down for some good ol’ Me Time. I couldn’t think of someone more fun to travel with. Even the tougher problems are easier for me to just let go and move on from. There are just too many great things out there for us to experience to be lingering on the bad. As one of my favorite philosophers who was also a fish said: “Just keep swimming.”
What a long post. I guess I had alot to say regarding my final thoughts on my European excursion. It’s somewhat sad to be ending this blog so soon. I’ve gotten so many good responses from my stories and I’ve had alot of fun sharing them with you. Some people have suggested that I make a post about life back in OKC complete with pictures and stories. I think I just might do that, but I know that although this part of my story is over, I will be traveling again soon now that I know how possible it is and how much fun it can be. Then I’ll just get back on here and pick up where I left off. Sounds exciting to me!
So what do I have to say here at the end of all this? After quitting the best job I’ve ever had, selling all my possessions, accomplishing my number one dream, living on a military base, and being robbed, I’ve gotta say: Get out there. Get out of your comfort zone. Way out. The farther the better. I’ve spent the last 23 years living the same way everybody else does. Get up, go to work, eat, drink, hang out, go to sleep. I am never spending another night staring at the four walls I work every day to pay for just because that’s what I was raised and taught to do.
There is far too much indescribable wonder out there to just sit in your safe little box and let your life pass before your eyes. You’re doing it right now on your phone or computer. We do it every day and for so many it seems impossible not to. I get it. I do. The unknown is scary. Anything can happen. You could lose all your money. You could become homeless. You could lose your friends. You could go to jail. You could die. It’s a surprise.
But I believe that’s what we all really want: A surprise. It’s what I hear most from people who “have it all together.” Charles from France had a great job with good pay as an engineer, but he described it as a “prison” and likes to spend his time off getting away from home and camping. Jordan had a steady job in Australia for the last seven years but realized he was stuck in a lethal rut that he ran away from with a one-way ticket. There are countless articles quoting people on their death beds saying they wish they’d taken more risks, had more adventures, tried more new things. “It’s better to look back and regret things you did than the things you didn’t.” None of those people say they were glad they played it safe and worked a 9 to 5 every day for 30 years without ever stepping outside their comfort zone.
We’ve all been raised to go to school, secure a job, claim a space to exist in, settle down, start a family, then prepare for retirement. Anything outside of this structure is considered “strange” or “wrong” and is looked down upon or discredited. I’m not trying to preach; I just want to say that it’s okay to stray wildly from the “norm” and not be ashamed of enjoying the hell out of it. The pressure to fit in to the idea we all have engrained into our expectations can make us completely terrified of taking that road less traveled. And it’s either because we’re afraid of the unknown or “what everyone else will think.”
Here it comes. Who cares what everyone else thinks? Why do you care what I have to say about what you’re doing? I’ll tell you why. Social evolution. It goes back to prehistoric times when human beings made it a priority to carry on the species. If people think highly of you, they’ll be more likely to be your friends and you’ll flourish. However, if people think lowly of you, they will spread rumors about you and you’ll be less likely to find a mate and reproduce. But guess what. We’re grossly overpopulated and it’s no longer necessary to rely on primal animal instincts.
It may go against everything you know, but throw normality out the window and separate yourself from the crowd. Things are way more exciting out there because you’re getting something the crowd shies away from. A surprise. It’s the unknown! Anything could happen! You could discover much better things to obsess over than money. You could make new lifelong friends. You could realize your passion. You could find happiness. You. Will. Live.
I know these are just words on a website, but I have faith that I will reach someone with my stories and that person will gain the courage to take that extreme risk that might jeopardize the stability of life as they know it so they can reach out for happiness with both hands. Take it from me; it’s worth it. Because remember, at the end of the day, all that matters is how you feel. Why do we want people to like us? Because having friends makes us happy. Why do we want money? Because we believe it will make us happy. So if all we want is to be happy, then does it really matter what we do, as long as it makes us feel good? (As long as it doesn’t harm anybody.)
Maybe we shouldn’t associate what we normally do with happiness. Money, a job, what people think, a house, a new car, new shoes, a new phone, all these things are an attempt to make us happy, but like I said in the last Lessons post, true happiness comes from within. It’s how you feel. So if happiness truly doesn’t depend on any of those things, then why cling to them? There’s no reason to be afraid of letting go of the norm because you will be doing what you know will make you happy.
So, including Part One, here are the lessons we can all take from my experience:
- Get rid of expectations
- People are nicer in small towns
- Don’t settle for comfort or contentment
- Happiness is a state of mind (not a person, place, or thing)
- Have faith in yourself
- Abandon fear and shyness
- Seize the Kairos
- Live lucidly
- Always smile, even if you’re not happy
- Never worry
- The situations where things seem to be the worst are when it’s most important to stay positive. Otherwise, it has no meaning
And from Part Two:
- People care about other people’s dreams, but why not more about their own?
- The easiest way isn’t the best way.
- It’s easy to forget to account for sleep while drifting.
- It doesn’t have to be a Third World Country for there to be suffering.
- Don’t take the little things for granted. Compromises can be blessings, too.
- Dangerous situations make for better stories.
- Bulgaria is really cheap, but it’s for a reason.
- Taxis rip you off.
- Just because somebody looks shady, it doesn’t mean they are.
- It’s okay to forget the negative to enjoy the positive.
- The fanciest place in town might be nowhere as good as the hotdog stand down the road.
- Boring layovers can be exciting if you let them.
- Look for the “old” part of town.
- Soccer can be exciting in the right circumstance.
- It’s a small world.
- Abandoning fear and shyness pays off.
- Always be ready for a long walk.
- There is something positive in every situation if you know how to look for it.
I believe that’s it. It’s strange and kind of sad to finish this story, but now I’m facing the beginning of another one. And I’m going to do whatever I can to make it exciting. The next time I go on an epic adventure, I’ll make sure to bring a camera again so I can share it with you. But don’t forget to have some amazing adventures yourself. There’s too much out there not to. So good-bye for now. Thank you for reading my story and supporting my dream. I hope nothing but the best for you and I’d like to talk soon. See you out there.