My travel story started out as I drove my rental car with no license 2500 miles west with less then $3000 to my name. I was high on life & on the open road racing towards my future in LA.
The Rockies were towering over me as I pulled into this unknown mountain town called Aspen. The vibe and pulse of this city radiating this magnetic energy should have stopped me dead in my travel tracks, and held me captive for decades to come. I often look back on that dinner stop knowing my likes/dislikes, hobbies, personality, and the friends that I’ve accumulated today and wonder what if? If only I’d been more honest with myself or less prideful maybe the series of pitfalls on the horizon would have been avoided. Maybe I’d be that veteran ski bum that had finally figured out how to avoid all the negatives of the lifestyle while sipping a cold one on my porch surrounded by mountainous beauty as I listen to the crackle of the fire & river flow by with my wife and kids. Its a mental image that creeps up on me from time to time along with the memory of the old couple telling me travel life gives the test first & the lessons second as I walked out the door.
Racing through the red rock landscape of Utah my thoughts wondered the mental obstacle course of my first big trip.I’ll never forget the silent thought I spoke to myself when the Vegas lights lit up the 104 degree night: “Well atleast I won’t freeze if I have to sleep outside.” An observation no one should ever register. My first night in LA amounted to listening to waves crash on some random beach while gazing at twinkling stars. There I slept I had made it. Some would have let their hair down. Party for a few days. Celebrate based on faith that all is well, but I was alone & living in a rental car that I couldn’t afford. It was time to get a job, house & then celebrate. Little did I know the city of Angels had no intention of rolling out the red carpet for me. Every probable thing I tried was met with complete failure. I Couldn’t get an apartment! Couldn’t find a job! Got denied by three colleges! Denied by the Navy for traffic tickets! Even got denied for unpaid internships & volunteer gigs. I was running out of money. Living in a rental car I stopped paying for weeks ago. Nothing was going right! That fatal night I had enough awareness to hold my breathe at a DWI checkpoint outside of El Cajon.
It didn’t matter though the police officer told me the rental company wanted their car back. I was getting arrested for driving without a license, but it was my lucky day because the jail had no room for me. So they towed my house, gave me a citation with a court date & sent me on my way. I guess its better then being charged with an underage DWI & Grand Theft Auto, but maybe that would have been a better path. I had enough street smarts to talk my way out of getting robbed by 3 kids in Venice Beach later that night. The next morning I had enough athleticism to avoid being stabbed by two homeless men. My cardio was tested when a crackhead took off with my bag that held my prized possessions & pathetic bank roll. That bag never left my side again. I lived at the beach because the free showers also served as a free laundromat. I found a 29 cent donut shop that if I only ate one donut a day would give me 30-35 days to find a solution to this problem. Drugs, alcohol & gangs were readily accessible, but I had enough discipline to steer clear. My travel life was being carved out on the streets of LA.
After a couple more weeks of captaining this struggle bus I threw up the white flag, and was ready to hang my head, swallow my pride & head home tail tucked between my legs admitting defeat. Fate must have taken pity on me or just wanted to see how far I would sink before admitting that devastatingly soul crushing defeat. It didn’t matter that the job being offered to me paid less than $200 a week. Didn’t even register with me that being a courier costs gas money. Not to mention I still didn’t have a license, and every day at work threatened jail time for simply driving down the road without a valid piece of plastic in my pocket. Looking back on it I don’t even know if what I was delivering was legal. I had a way to make money $6-$12 per drop. It required no skills, no uniform, no certifications or anything else the modern world now requires. All I had to do was find destinations in my trusty map book. Yes I said map book because google hadn’t even been invented yet. AOL was in charge of the internet. Facebook was still a decade away from becoming a global icon, and the smartest feature a cell phone had at that point was Nextel’s two way radio push-to-talk. There was no texting, SIRI, craigslist. Heck I don’t even think Ebay, Amazon, Yahoo or Napster were even around yet?!? No one was nudging, poking, tweeting, snapchatting or even uploading while I was traveling from the temples of Thailand to the beaches of Brazil.
TRAVEL LIFE BY WAY OF SEASONAL EMPLOYERS
How did I get from homeless documents courier to world traveler? Seasonal Adventure Jobs I’ve been traveling the world by way of seasonal employers since 1998. After struggling for a couple more months in LA I came across a newspaper “Help Wanted” ad in Malibu that offered employee housing. A job? Free food? AND housing……YES PLEASE!!!!! I hadn’t even applied yet, but I couldn’t be more excited. Three things I desperately needed to enhance the quality of my life. I didn’t need any more motivation than that, and off I went to print a pathetic resume to apply at this unknown restaurant. I had no idea the door I was about to open or the world I was about to discover. After getting hired on the spot I quit my job & set my sites on a life of travel I never even knew existed. It was a life changing experience. The concept of an employer providing housing, good pay, food & amazing friends was foreign to me but overwhelmingly welcoming. That magical summer provided me with life long friends, new hobbies, great pay & an introduction to a life of travel. I was hooked, but didn’t know where to turn. This dream job was coming to an end, and wouldn’t reopen its doors for another 6 months. There was no way I was traveling back to the beaches & 29 cent donuts, but back then there were no blogs or job boards like MyAdventureJobs. So I tapped into the only travel network I could find Beach Bums & Hippies. They pointed me towards the woods and the waves. Their logic was sound and I found samples of success over the next few years. Bouncing between Florida, Minnesota & California I traveled. I even made a guest appearance in New Orleans during Mardi Gras one season. Nothing like that first season though. Travel had me chasing ghosts trying to duplicate what I found in Malibu all those years ago. While bouncing around the country from random employer to random destination I was being trained at a school I was unaware I was attending. There was no tuition. The professor was my peers, and the classroom was my daily interaction. My major was the pursuit of happiness. My minor was travel, & my focus was acceptance. I was getting my PHD in goodbyes & fresh starts while constantly searching for that elusive adventure my soul ached for.
MY FIRST INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL ADVENTURE
I found myself back in Minnesota desperately trying to acquire purpose, sense of accomplishment and adventure. The tiniest sample of success would have been monumental. Instead all I found was heartache & disappointment around every corner. The unexpected passing of my father sent me reeling for lifelines only to find my independence had pushed my ships of support beyond the marina they used to dock in. Months of hibernation ensued until out of desperation I bolted to Chicago unknowingly about to become a Junior in the University of Globetrotting. I moved in with a former co-worker, grabbed a job, joined a hockey league & even enrolled in college. Everything that LA wasn’t Chicago was. It was “big city” with “small town” mentality, and I LOVED it. I was getting a taste of the travel life I had been seeking, but life was about to throw its never ending curve balls. My roommate moved out of state, my job went out of business & design school was too expensive. Retreat to Minnesota was the only option. With everything packed in the Uhaul I just needed to get my stuff from campus. It was the most depressing train ride yet to date. I had failed again. Had to say goodbye to a girlfriend, friends & co-workers again. I had to go home with defeat stamped on my forehead again. Fate was about to take pity on me or laugh at me ….once again. Campus had a buzz it normally didn’t have. Faces that weren’t normally there, and languages with heavy accents filled the lobby. A mulatto guy introduced himself. We talked about the city, school and summer plans. Before I knew it he was offering me a job in France. He had a solution for all my excuses, and offering more money then I had ever been paid. Why would I say no?
- Want to know the trick on how to get a Uhaul with unlimited miles and drop it off anywhere you want?
Etienne made all the travel arraignments over the next month to get me to France. It included 3 buses, 2 planes & a train. What I wasn’t telling anyone was that for the last 6 months I had been scouring the internet for adventure, and I was going to France to join the French Foreign Legion. Out of desperation I considered this the answer to my travel prayers, and in the most unlikely of ways the French Foreign Legion saved my life. Somewhere in there I must have slipped it to my brother because out of concern he flew to Europe to intercept me at a coffee shop in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris. We agreed to backpack around Europe for a few weeks to recalibrate my life, and deter me from joining the French Foreign Legion. We visited the Eiffel Tower, attended soccer games, ate pizza with raw eggs, escaped gypsies in the park & played pictionary every time we needed to speak to someone. Eventually we made our way up to London to visit a friend from Cypriot living in England that I had met through an online game. His family hosted us while we took in a few other matches, partied in New Brighton & played poker in West Kensington. The history, culture & diversity along with the freedom of which we roamed was very appealing. Unfortunately I was locked on to the allure of the French Foreign Legion. When it was time for him to return I was faced with a choice: Do I or don’t I? He had all the right words at all the right times. He’d done his research! With no direction I sat there reflecting, and watching life all around me. On queue like it was scripted out of a movie here comes Etienne to sit next to me on the grass below the Eiffel Tower. We chatted for hours about anything and everything. Like my brother he had all the right words at the right time. So off I went to work at the hostel.
Unaware that something as trivial as babysitting a building for a couple hours a day was going to change my life forever I treated it like any other random job. Temporary & unsatisfying. It was only supposed to be for the summer, and my job was to be the night auditor from 11pm-7am. This wasn’t your normal hostel though. It only catered to English speaking travelers. Every room had its own shower, bathroom, TV & came at the price of 176 Francs a night. Not only that, but we locked the doors from midnight to 6am. So I really only worked 2 hours a shift, and slept the other 6. I was a power tourist in France with access to anywhere I wanted. Surrounded by travelers, no expenses & only 2 hour blocks of responsibilities there was really only one obvious choice: absorb as much of the lifestyle as I could. That first 8 months I clicked off every possible attraction there was within 7,000 miles. I became a master networker within this secret globetrotter community. I had places to stay and people to meet everywhere I traveled. Ideas piling up in my notebook.
Postit notes covered the walls of my room. My address book grew from couple pages to a couple books. It was a whirlwind of adventures, and I couldn’t get enough. I watched football matches in London, partied in Thailand, snorkeled in Australia, hiked in Norway, experimented in Amsterdam & fell in Love in Barcelona. Obviously I had my blinders on to keep reality at bay. I was having so much fun I never wanted to go home. Then I met Casey Paris was her last stop on a year around the world before heading back to Iowa. Standing on the Eiffel Tower on her final night she said, “It feels different. I didn’t want to be what I was before I left……Anonymous.” Unfortunately like my brother & Etienne she said the right words at the right time. One of my favorite books by the way. It was like someone had cast a spell on me, and those 15 words unlocked a raging waterfall of thoughts. I was anonymous. All the memories and wonderful moments during my stay in France were shared with temporary friends that for a brief moment in time our relationship was magical, but consequently an unavoidable tragedy of living a life of travel.
ALASKA TRAVEL ADVENTURES
Casey’s words sent me on international internet treasure hunt. The results were deflating. Fortunately while sitting in a cafe in Rouen, where Joan of Arc was hung, a zipline in Alaska called me to come work for them. Don’t even remember applying to them. I had never heard or even knew what a zipline was. Alaska wasn’t even on my radar to visit let alone live and they wanted me there in 3 days. My bags were packed. Flight was booked, and I needed a change. I didn’t have any idea what Alaska had to offer, but I was game. Did absolutely no research. Packed everything I didn’t need, and overlooked everything I did need. I didn’t own a tent. Didn’t pack a sleeping bag, and brought nothing but city clothes. I was a greenhorn about to step into my element and graduate from the University of Globetrotters.
The tone was set as soon as I boarded the plane. I was traveling out of my element only to find my element, and I wasn’t going to say “NO” to anything. Alaska introduced herself as magnificent & massive. I arrived early evening and got hoodwinked into paying the bill for my PT cruiser driving host Gigi at a local restaurant. Why thats a permanent memory I don’t know, but this left with me about $80 to my name until an unknown payday. Eventually she dropped me off at employee housing, gave me the $2 tour, some guidelines & left me with a group of strangers. Strangers that were going to provide the most magnificent & majestic five months of my life. I introduced myself to Ketchikan humble reserved & cautious.
On a pre-season outting at a campground on the North end of the island I terminated that reputation by Bill Goldberg spearing a drunk guy talking trash to my new roommate. I had reset the tone from “what do you have to offer” to “are you ready for me?”
We were all new to Alaska! New to tour guiding! New to this array of employee housing. The summer motto was “Bring It” & we brought it. The personalities & mentalities of that summer were eclectic but euphoric. The memories, rallying support, unbounded loyalty & generosity has no barometer of measurement for my gratitude of those amazing individuals that made up the Alaska Canopy Adventures crew of 2008. Twenty four hours a day we were attached to one another, and every day brought a new adventure.
Whether that was fishing for King Salmon, sea kayaking, hiking, bear watching, whale watching, eagle watching, night zipping, unicycling, juggling,song writing, box fires, boot fires, tarp burritos, sea plane excursions, go karting, night clubbing, jail, hospitals, yuker, family dinners, celebrating birthdays, hole in the wall, singing on the roof, edward forty hands, binge drinking, peeing on sleeping coworkers, fighting or searching for submarine bases that summer provided more memories than most lives will ever produce. The irony of this is that I quit 10 days after arriving. I couldn’t me more grateful for forgetting that sporadic decision.
Had it not been for my desperate search for an adrenaline rushing adventure Alaska wouldn’t have such a special place in my heart. Wouldn’t have had such an impact on my life. The friends & support I’ve received over the years from those amazing individuals would have never been apart of my world. Its really a unique moment when a stranger becomes a life long friend that you’ve only known for a couple of hours, but that’s standard operating procedure for seasonal life. You start out strangers and become life long friends in the span of a few months. No matter the miles, time or scenario your there for one another.
Alaska showed me the life I had been searching for for over a decade, and allowed me to finally graduate from the University of Globetrotters with full honors. Since 2008 I have lived in 35 states 7 countries and have never been able to duplicate that summer. I’ve searched far & wide in some of the most iconic vacation towns in the world. I’ve kayaked the entire Mississippi River. Hiked both the Applachain & Pacific Crest Trails. Backpacked down to Brazil in time for World Cup. Worked the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Arrived in Thailand in the middle of their civil war. Attended two presidential swearing in ceremonies. I’ve ski’d more days in one season than most will in a decade. I have worked, lived or visited just about every mountain town there is in the United States. North Carolina introduced me to kite surfing, and Hawaii keeps calling my name but I keep missing the call. 2008 was a magical summer that changed my life, vantage point, mentality & overall approach to the world. Someday when I least expect something special will knock 2008 ACA off the podium, but I am eternally grateful for that one extraordinary summer.
My intention for writing this isn’t to brag, gloat or belittle you. Its to show you that there is life out there that is entirely made up of genuine souls searching & seeking. Looking forward to the day they meet you. Impatiently waiting to plan an adventure of a lifetime with you. They’re not materialistic. They don’t care about your background. Bank accounts don’t matter, and status is irrelevant. You’ll be welcomed with open arms, and it doesn’t require anything more then desire and curiosity. AOWANDERS is here to help you plan your adventures, fund your travels, share my tales & ultimately help you live your dreams.
Have a travel story of your own? Leave a comment below I’d love to hear about it. Got any advice for anyone planning their big trip? Please share below. Got questions or concerns? Hit me up if I don’t have the answer I’ll definitely find it out for ya. If you don’t take anything else from this post take this:
Even tragedy will become comedy given enough time. Adventure is what lies ahead, and when the planning fails the adventure begins. Traveling alone will be the scariest, most liberating life changing experience of your life. ~ Try it at least once. In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take, relationships we were too afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make. Would you rather live a life of “Oh wells” or “What ifs”