On Timex's Where To Go From Here blog post, I commented...
"I completely respect your thoughts and feelings, but I would say it's not what you do, but how you do it that counts. No activity is innately more meaningful over another, until you give it that meaning.
I agree with the comments saying grab a backpack and go off and travel the world for a while. Don't rely on your wealth, try to live as sparingly as possibly and visit underdeveloped parts of the world. Explore, observe, experience, and keep an open mind to the possibilities. GL"
On further reflection, it sounded a bit trite, as most short comments will sound. I think I can explain my thoughts more clearly on why I would suggest throwing on a backpack and beginning your journey. Much of our lives are consumed with creating a solid financial base for ourselves. You have been fortunate enough to do that in poker at the tender age of 20. You are left with the search for meaning and connection. I feel the best way to begin that process is to take yourself out of your comfort zone. Put yourself in unfamiliar situations. Soak up everything you can. Try to view the world how others you've never met do. Evaluate the possibilities and your choices. Don't start with an agenda or plan, but allow your journey to define you.
The best way I can probably explain it is to share one defining journey from my life. I've written about multiple individual adventures that occurred during the trip, but not so much about what the trip meant as a whole and how it served me. I was 22 or 23 at the time. I had graduated from college, but still didn't have a concrete sense of what I would do. I flew from suburban Philadelphia to Nairobi, Kenya. I was to meet my best friend from my Kenyan exchange trip from a couple years earlier.
Our goals were simple. With our backpacks, we were looking to travel for as long and as far as we could throughout Africa. We wanted to get a sense of the continent, not just Kenya that we already had a familiarity with. We wanted to experience as much as we could. We were looking to spend as little as possible to prolong the journey with the funds we had, but also to experience what life is like for those in Africa, as opposed to what our privileged lives could have afforded us. Each day we would wake up and evaluate the new day.
Our first thoughts, after reconnecting with our old friends and home stay families in Kenya, were to head from East Africa to West Africa, but our plans changed regularly as we encountered revolutions, closed borders, and tropical rainy seasons. Some countries we spent a day in, some countries we spent several weeks. Some days we hitch-hiked, others we rode local 'bush taxis', country buses, trains or boats. None of it was glamorous or luxurious. We ate what the locals ate. We stayed in very inexpensive local hotels, hostels or occasionally camped. We used our limited Swahili and French where possible to remove ourselves from the cultural imperialism that is American culture. We wanted to be seen as individual travelers, not defined by the country we came from. We wanted to avoid the overland trucks with hoards of similarly minded travelers. We avoided many of the backpacker hot spots. We were interested in soaking up the local culture, history, cuisine, flora and fauna.
After four months of traveling together, our interests and attitudes diverged and my friend continued on to South Africa to eventually get a newspaper internship, while I continued my journey on my own. We parted in Zimbabwe, the country that years later that I would eventually return to many times as an art dealer. I loved my time in Zimbabwe; the people, its culture and geography. I even think I began to fall in love with a young woman there named Senzeni Tadii Kanyangarara. In the brief time I knew her, she was unlike any other African woman I had known before or since. Time and space prevented us from developing our relationship. She died tragically in a car accident a few years later. But I was richer for having met her.
My father contacted me while I was in Zimbabwe and indicated an interest in seeing me, so I made arrangements to travel by land and air over war-torn Mozambique, through Malawi and Tanzania, back to Kenya, so we could travel for a little while together, showing him some of my life there. After he left, I decided I wanted to continue to West Africa, our original destination. So I flew to Cameroon to meet up with a Peace Corps friend working on a Elephant preservation project in very northern Cameroon. I then continued my journeys throughout West Africa, eventually ending my journeys in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire where a Belgian, friend of the family from my childhood days in Africa, lived.
All in all, I traveled for 9 months, the last 4-5 on my own. I averaged spending $10 a day (granted it was 20 years ago) which covered food, lodging, transportation and entertainment. I visited 15 countries on that trip. I encountered so many cultures, tribes, languages, geography, cuisine, weather, that it would be hard to recount it all. Thankfully, I survived without any major health scares, although I had brushes with malaria, amoebic dysentery, and jiggers. I had my fair share of adventures, many of the which I've shared in my blog over the last several years.
I came away with no greater sense of what I would do with my life, but a greater sense of who I am and what the world was about. I had gained experience and wisdom from the lands I traveled through. I had gained friendships and an awareness of the diversity that makes up this planet. I appreciated the hospitality I was shown by people who had so much less than me. I had removed myself from the comfort zone that was America. I had removed myself from the expectations that others had for me. For that time, I lived only to travel, explore and connect. I felt so alive. I had tested myself in ways I could never have predicted.
Where you choose to travel may differ. What you want to accomplish or see may differ. But do it. Take yourself out of your comfort zone. Experience the world as you never have before. Open up to the glorious beauty and tragedy that makes up this amazing planet and discover yourself. Many good wishes to you on your journey.
Send me a postcard!