The Last Word
Welcome to the epilogue. The trip is over, and I needed somewhere to insert a literary full-stop. This will have to do. Here you'll find my thoughts on the trip in general, how it feels to be back, and some (hopefully) interesting facts and statistics about the trip. Happy reading.
Here is the standard table of contents:
Note: If you haven't done so already, you might want to read Episode 8 first.
So why was I travelling? Well, I've written a lot about that in my Ramblings page (here), but the bottom line is: I was travelling to close down my old life and search for a direction for a new one. I no longer want to be a computer guy (training or otherwise). Something more satisfying, more soulful, more me was required. It's like when you want to know about someone's job - you ask them what they do. You don't ask them what they are. I'd like them to be the same thing.
So did I find it, that special thing? Well, yes and no. I tried my hand at writing, and I liked it. And I found it challenging and I found it confronting. Writing is creative and it's an expression of me, so it seems like a perfect candidate for a new career. But really, I don't know. Right now I don't feel any strong pull towards writing (or anything else for that matter), so I'm just going to see what develops. More about that later.
The trip was wonderful. Life-changing. At times it made my heart sing and I felt lucky to be alive. I found myself free and flowing happily along the River of Life. And of course, there were other times when I was downright miserable. Lonely. Lost. Pissed off with life. Sick of being me. In fact, when I look at the trip as a whole, there was a bit of everything. I feel now that I had the whole spectrum of experience. I didn't, of course, but it feels like it. And I'm glad about that, because if I'd been happy every day it would have been incredibly boring (and this web site would be incredibly dull). Personally I think we, as a species, spend far too much time chasing after "happiness." Everywhere we look we're told we can find it, and find it easily. Everyone on television is happy, and we come to expect that we will be too. It's even written into the American Constitution: "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." We believe it's our birthright. And of course, most people are not happy all the time. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that noone is happy all the time. I'd be surprised if there were many people who were happy, really happy, even 50% of the time.
But we expect to, so we feel like failures when we're not.
It's like that song says, Don't read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.
I think it's all about feeling okay when you're having a bad day. When you're down at the depths of a truly shitty experience, looking at yourself and thinking, Whatever I may be feeling, I sure know I'm alive. And even feeling "happy" about the pain (or whatever it is). It's like going to a movie. Do you only ever go and see happy, funny movies? Of course not. You often deliberately choose movies that make you sad, angry, scared, excited, horny or educated. You even enjoy such movies. Why not the same for life? Because it doesn't say that in the Constitution.
Sorry, a got a little carried away there.
The point is, my trip was neither good nor bad - it was everything. Which, when you think about it, is really good.
You know what I mean.
But on to other things. Here are some highlights of the trip:
My most common question I get about my trip, now that I'm back, is, Where did you go? To save time, I usually just reply Everywhere. It's true that if Cairo is counted as being part of Africa (it is, geographically but not spiritually), then I visited every continent in the world (alright - except Antarctica). This answer seldom satisfies, so I get asked, So where did you spend the most time? Again, there's no simple answer. I spent a few months in many places. I suppose you could summarise the trip as follows:
...for a total of about eleven months. If you want even more detail than that, read on.
I had a bit of time on my hands in South America, so I compiled a list of all the countries I'd visited, and how long I'd spent in each one. One of the least appealing aspects of travelling is moving to a new bed almost every night, so I was also interested in analysing how long, on average, I really did spend in each place of lodging that I visited. I found out that:
I took 19 flights (take-offs and landings) on my round-the-world ticket for a total of 37,287 flight miles (60,007km), and 14 flights that were not part of my round-the-world ticket. I returned with 1,713 flight miles (and 25 days) left on my 39,000-mile ticket. The flight itinerary was as follows (not including stopovers):
Sydney - Kathmandu - Lukla - Kathmandu - Cairo (overland to) Tel Aviv - London - Dublin - London - Belfast - London - Washington (overland to) Nashville - Chicago - British Virgin Islands - New York (overland to) Boston - Lima - New York - Sydney.
I used an Excel spreadsheet on my palmtop to track my finances while I was away. All my travelling funds came from savings. I used four credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express Gold and American Express Blue) to supply me with cash and purchases - nothing else. No traveller's cheques, no money transfers. Every transaction I made I entered into my spreadsheet, thereby allowing me to gauge how fast I was spending money and when I needed to make payments to my credit cards (which I did through National Australia Bank's Internet banking system (here)). I set up my spreadsheet to tell me when I would run out of money, given that I maintained my average rate of spending. It was also used to maintain exchange rates. If you want to see a couple of screenshots of my spreadsheet, click here and here.
While abroad, I used 10 currencies: Baht (Thailand), Rupee (Nepal), Yuan (China/Tibet), Pound (Egypt), Shekel (Israel), Pound Sterling (England and Northern Ireland), Punt (Ireland), US Dollar (United States, British Virgin Islands and US Virgin Islands), Sol (Peru), and Boliviano (Bolivia)
Before I left Australia, I spent A$3,300 on buying my round-the-world airfare, and another $900 on a going-away party (Greg put in another $900). During the 339 days I was away, I spent a total of $32,089 on travelling (at an average of A$94.66 (US$60.58) per day), and had $337 stolen. When I returned, I had $476 left (it would have lasted another 5 days). When you do the maths, this means that I spent a total of $36,150 on the trip, including the airfares.
(Incidentally, within a week of returning I had spent $5000 on a new computer and getting my car back on the road - all on the magic credit cards.)
I was also asked what was the cheapest and most expensive countries that I visited. Well, this all had a lot to do with what I was doing in them. Nepal would have been the cheapest, except we spent three weeks on a trek (at A$80 per day), stayed in a nice hotel whilst in Kathmandu, and bought many Christmas presents. So the cheapest ended up being Israel (largely due to the way I was living there), even though it seemed exorbitantly dear compared to Nepal, Tibet and Egypt when I arrived. The most expensive was the UK. By far. London is just an awfully expensive place to live. The States would have been a lot cheaper had I not enrolled in those three weeks of Native American workshops at almost A$1100 per week.
The full table of expenses is detailed below:
Cost per day
While I was away, I read 43 books, not including travel guides, which translates to one every 8 days. I was fortunate, I read very few bad or even average books. What the hell - I think I'll give you my opinion on each of them. Here they are, alphabetically by Author's first name.....
My Hotmail account certainly got a workout while I was away. I wrote and sent 648 emails, and received 982 (nearly three per day), substantially more than the amount I'd received in the three years leading up to the trip put together. I filled (and emptied) the two-Megabyte limit on my Hotmail account three times (I never delete emails, sent or received).
The champion emailer, the person who wrote to me the most, was - wait for it - Paul Klemes, with 92 emails (or two emails a week, on average). Thanks Paul - keep 'em comin'.
This web site was not planned before we left Australia. It was Greg's purchase of a digital camera in Bangkok Airport that made it possible - started the creative juices flowing. Four days after reaching Kathmandu we posted all the photos - because we could - and then of course they needed some commentary to go with them. That commentary (of which you're reading the last few paragraphs) steadily became more and more important to me, to the point where the photos were almost incidental. I looked forward to writing a new episode every couple of months. It was my project. It added a flavour to the trip that was totally unexpected.
Looking back on it, I'm so glad to have done it (the web site, that is). For me, it is a wonderful record of our trip away, sort of like a journal - a great big public one.
In case you're interested, we took 1488 photos with the digital camera (roughly four per day). 714 of these have been posted on this web site, and another 15 on Rhett Gladman's home page. The rest were deleted.
Considering that this web site started as a single list of digital photos accompanied by an email sent to all our friends, this site has come a long way. There are now 42 HTML files (separate web pages) in this web site, totalling 1.39Mb (not to mention the several hundred automatically generated ones in the photo catalogues). The content of 27 of them was written by me during the trip (780Kb), which is a fair amount of writing in anyone's language, especially when I was supposed to be off seeing the world. The size of the entire web site - all HTML pages plus all 714 photos (plus miscellaneous files and thumbnail images) - runs to over 53 Megabytes. I printed it all out yesterday - the episodes, introduction, epilogue, ramblings and love responses ran to 140 finely typed A4 pages. Sheesh! It's long enough to be a book.
I've certainly gotten the travelling bug out of my system. For a while, anyway. I have no plans to pick up and travel again, but then again, I have no commitment to staying in Sydney, either. I'll just see what turns up.
I've been back for seven and a half weeks now, and I haven't worked a single day. My credit cards are bulging, but it doesn't seem to matter too much. Something will turn up, work-wise, but not until the new year, I'm sure of that. It's great to be back, and not a shock to the system at all. I've been taking it easy, seeing friends, enjoying being in Sydney in summer, and totally ignoring all my resolutions to get fit, healthy and spiritual.
Greg and I met up again the day after I returned. We met, unsurprisingly, naked in the Korean Bath-house (where we were very careful not to let our reunion hug go on too long). He and I are as close as we've ever been, and there's no ill feeling about his not returning to join me on the trip. After all, we've got the rest of our lives for such things. Shortly after I returned, Greg had to go off on a business trip around Australia for ten days, visiting Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane. He didn't want to go alone, so he asked if I wanted to accompany him, business class all the way, of course. How could I refuse? And so we went, and we got to spend some quality time together at last.
Sydney, surprisingly, has changed. We're gearing up for the Olympics in September, not to mention the Millennium in a couple of weeks (sounds funny to say it like that). There have been major changes to Sydney's roads and buildings in a mad scramble to fix all our traffic and aesthetic problems before the guests arrive. In spite of all the improvements, Sydney's traffic is worse than I remember it. It hardly affects me, though, as I usually never drive during peak hour. I look at everyone madly rushing around, going to work, etc, etc, and I don't feel a part of it. I feel like I'm outside the society looking in. And it's more than my simply not working, it's like I can no longer get concerned about the little things in life. And there are so many little things in life to get caught up with! A year travelling does that to you - you finally get to see the wood for the trees, and I'm very glad of it, too.
I'm living with my parents, a very cost-effective solution for me at the moment.
I've bought a new computer, and have been using it to slowly work on this web site. The computer has a CD-ROM burner, so I've been madly downloading songs from the Internet and creating compilation CDs for myself (it also allows me to make copies of this web site on CD-ROM for anyone who wants one, costing me only A$3 per disk).
I plan to do another Vision Quest between Christmas and New Year's Eve. I'll try for the full four days this time, and I should be more likely to succeed. I learned some stuff about Vision Quests while I was at the Philosophy courses, and I'll be more suitably equipped next time. Greg is going to do one simultaneously.
Interestingly, when I got back, I immediately noticed that my short-term memory was shot. I'd forget everything - appointments, conversations, even what I'd just done five minutes before. I suspect it had something to do with coming off twelve months of not having to remember stuff like that, particularly seeing as the final two weeks were spent attempting to shut down my logical mind and meditate. It's come back now (my memory, that is)
In summary, I'm very much in going-with-the-flow mode. Whatever turns up, turns up. I'm not trying to control my life at the moment, and that's a very lovely, freeing way to be.
To all of you who have been reading this web site, thank you. It means a lot to me that people take the trouble to come by here and read what I've written. It has made the trip feel that much more real knowing that other people are experiencing it through my eyes. Thanks for your feedback, your comments and your support.
I won't be writing any more additions to this web site. But the writing urge is well and truly in my system now, so I suspect there'll be more to read sooner or later.
December 16th, 1999.