As I sit in a cafe in Puerto Viejo on my 38th birthday, I’m reflecting, as we are wont to do on those anniversaries of our birth. I’m mainly looking back at the past year. A year that seems to be the longest year of my life… but in a good way. A great way, actually.
Exactly one year ago, I had never left the United States. Now, I sit in Costa Rica, my 14th foreign country. I have made one complete circle around the globe, seen multiple cultures, eaten numerous new and wondrous things, encountered language barriers, ridden a camel, slept in a tent in the Sahara desert, seen the Milky Way brighter and more vivid than I have ever seen it, bartered in souks in Marrakech, swam in the Andaman Sea, the Gulf of Thailand and the Caribbean, had Christmas dinner with strangers, hiked countless mountain trails, had food poisoning, seen elephants, monkeys, and sloths, and made a fool of myself innumerable times. Contrasting my last birthday with this one, it’s clear a lot has happened in a year.
The older I get the quicker life seems to fly by. A feeling, I’m sure, most people can relate to. I was always afraid I’d wake up tomorrow at 85 years old wondering where all the time went. This past year, however, has felt like five. An interesting thing happens when you travel, when you get out of your comfort zone, when you are constantly in a new place: Time. Slows. Down. Not in a boring, grating, god when will I ever get off of work kind of way - but in a catch your breath, my life is not slipping away from me kind of way. My very first week on the road last year felt like a month. It was the first time I realized this sensation. It was bizarre. It was amazing. You can manipulate time… You can make your life longer.
The reason, I believe, is because travel and being in new environments, stimulates your brain. It wakes it up. When you are stuck in routine, your mind falls asleep, goes on auto pilot. It ceases to pay attention. The tasks at hand no longer require it be alert. The days and years slip away because they are not logged into the memory.
The past year was not only the longest year of my life but, in a strange way, it was the first year of my life. I had always felt that there were things I wanted to do - traveling is just one example - but I would always say “Well as soon as I get some money saved; as soon as I get to that level in my career; as soon as THIS happens or THAT happens; then I can do this, or then I can do that… THEN I can live my life.” I kept thinking tomorrow everything will be in place finally and then life can really start. Well I ended up in my mid-thirties and tomorrow still had not come. It never does. In a way my 37th birthday was my real birth. From that day on I was actually living. I have never felt quite like this before. Everyday I have a sense of “Yes. This is the life I always thought I’d be living. I’m no longer waiting.” This past year I have been alive. Today, I am one year old.
Last year the goal was one year on the road. That goal was never realized. I only made it seven months before I ran out of money. Am I disappointed that I didn’t make my goal? Not at all. The goal was there to shoot for, to get me off my ass, to get me to do something. And it worked. The goal did its job whether or not it was achieved. I now know that goals and plans always change. It’s the one constant. My new goal is two years living nomadically, seeing 40 countries and all 7 continents before I’m 40 years old. We’ll see next year how much that goal has mutated… but that’s a long way away.