This blog post isn’t one of our normal entries, focusing on entrepreneurship or travel. Instead, I wanted to take a moment to publicly reflect on the road thus far. What I’ve learned along the way, the personal journey, where I was when I left, where I am now, what happened in between, some of the lessons I hope have led me to become a better person, a smarter businessman, and hopefully, towards my Ultimate Destiny. Whatever that might be.
Who knew? Seriously. If you asked the Me of 2007 what I would be doing in 2014, I wouldn’t have had a clue. By that point, I was still hip-deep in construction work, and while I’d done a lot of travel since 1999, including multiple stints in Bulgaria (my routine from 2002 until 2005 was work 3-4 months, go to Bulgaria for 2-3 months, come back, work another 3-4 months, go back, spend another 2-3 months) and Eastern Europe, I wasn’t even remotely close to considering a life of travel.
I won’t recap the whole journey here; that’s already been done in The Expat Guidebook. But what I will do is share some nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up over the years, which can hopefully motivate a few of you and help you avoid some of the common pitfalls that can take the wind out of your sails early on in your traveling career.
Don’t Rush It
There’s something to be said for the adventurous lifestyle of flitting place to place like a bat out of hell, but it’s not for me. I want immersion travel. I need it slow. I prefer reading the whole novel as opposed to skim reading, but not just because of the culture. Also for the relationships.
If I had just come to Mexico and blasted through Cancun in the initial three months that I had first thought I would be here…I never would have met Cris. Had I never decided to pick up Spanish, we would not have ended up going on our first date, and eventually winding up where we are now: happily married.
I wouldn’t have made the friends along the way; Wanda, my go-to friend during my early months in Cancun, with her Cafe Nirvana coffee and breakfasts just around the corner from where I lived. And my buddy DJ Vishnu, who ended up becoming my mentor, and one of the best friends I’ve made since heading out. Ismael, who became one of my early mastermind friends for social media and backlinking and website development.
And I wouldn’t have learned about cultural aspects of Bulgaria and Mexico if it weren’t for spending several years in each destination. The aversion to the cold weather that Bulgarians have. Mexicans and “ni modos“. Corrupt taxi drivers. Cops who are even more corrupt. Bribery and negotiation. That one night at Playa Marlyn and the pink cock sock I was dared into wearing….
Slow Down and Simplify
I can’t say that I have any less amenities abroad than I ever did in the U.S. I have high speed Internet, air conditioning, first-class medical care, and beyond. But it costs me a fraction of what it did back there. The main thing is that I’ve learned to live simply…and I’ve learned it’s so much more superior to anything I ever knew or thought I knew back when I was still living with the hood over my eyes.
I was one of those who bought into the “need” for things that are completely extraneous. A new cell phone every year. A new television every year. New, new, new, new. Single serving packages, marked up in price. Addiction to high fructose corn syrup. Constant illnesses as a result of toxic consumption of FDA-approved foods.
The first thing that happened to me when I moved to Bulgaria was I lost 50 pounds in six months. Just from changing my diet and walking everywhere as opposed to driving (at the height of my Americanism I would literally drive my pickup a mere three blocks to get Subway; that’s less than a five minute walk). My chronic sinus infections, which had plagued me since I was 18 years old, disappeared. I went from 12 – 16 infections a year….to NOTHING.
Salads. Fruits. Veggies. Yogurt. Cheese. Wine. Olive oil. Bread. All of these foods that were suddenly available for pennies…simple, staple fare, yet ultimately so much healthier, and completely off my radar until I was able to get out from under the thumb of my home country.
I went from horking my food down at a restaurant for fear of being asked to leave if you sat for more than 45 minutes….to spending four to six hours at restaurants in Bulgaria. A trend which I found was replicated throughout every country I visited in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. And then have seen replicated in Latin America.
I saw lunch break in countries around the world that lasted an hour…two hours. Forget the 30 minutes for lunch and one or two 15 minute breaks per day. Whole sections of countries shut down for the afternoon siesta. People go out for lunch, then take a nap, and come back at 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Because screw work. Life will come as it comes. Ni modos. Live easy. Simply. No stress.
Conversations take place…not merely consumption of food. Alcohol is imbibed in epic proportions; if the Greek and Roman gods of old were to take human form, I would not be far amiss to say they would find brothers in arms within Eastern Europeans (and Russians), at least from a “eat, drink and be merry” point of view.
I learned patience. To enjoy a slower pace of life. To throw away my watch and enjoy the simple pleasures…like good food, good company, good conversation and good drink. No time cards or limits. No rushing around. 15 minutes late for a meeting? No worries.
Dinner party is at 7? Show up at 9…the food will just be getting on the table and the majority of the guests will be arriving. And be prepared to be there until 3-4 in the morning, at the earliest. And to be stuffed and properly drunk by the time you leave.
Never Looking Back
Your past does not define you…but it does help to mold you. I’ve made my share of mistakes…and they have helped me learn, to become the person I am today. One thing I’ve learned from living in Mexico is that the people here very much live on a day-to-day basis, more so than in any other country I’ve visited or lived in. I can attribute most of my “live for today” changes to Cristina.
That being said, I still do have plans for the future, and I do have a business plan that I adhere to. But that’s different from the day-to-day living. If you let yourself be consumed by the past, by your mistakes, by your upbringing, your cultural brainwashing and beyond…you will never allow yourself to move forward, into the future, into your destiny.
I’ve learned that regret does not serve a purpose. Past experiences may help shape you, but you should not dwell on the past. This was a really hard lesson for me to learn, and it was mostly thanks to Cristina and her constant companionship and friendship.
However, my brother’s suicide a year ago also really moved me to a different place in my life. In many ways, this solidified my relationship with Cris, as she was there for me in what was, to-date, the most difficult moment of my life. There were a lot of regrets in my mind during those early weeks after his passing. Should I have pushed harder for him to come live in Mexico with me, as we had talked? Should I have given him the money to help pay his back rent, or would it have been wiser to just buy him a plane ticket? Should I have called more often? Made more time?
Ultimately, I realized that as much as I miss him, I can’t remain in the past and dwell on doubt. I can only move forward. And so I used his passing as the flame of inspiration which pushed me into developing the brand in the direction we moved in 2013: more towards teaching classes and consulting as opposed to just writing and freelancing. Giving back. Inspiring others. Mentoring and coworking.
Culture Is Your Operating System
The single most important thing I have learned since living a life of full-time travel…is that every nation on this planet attempts to manipulate its people for the benefit of a few at the top. I have learned that culture is not to be feared, that it is not ingrained, that it is not permanent. It is taught, programmed, conditioned.
We are empty slates until we let our masters program us with information, with operating systems. With religion, nationalism, racism and a desire to fight and die to defend “god and country”. Every single nation I’ve ever visited does the same, twisting human nature and attempting to harness the free will of the people.
Thankfully, we can choose to reprogram ourselves. Our organic computers that we call minds. We can choose to disregard segregation and separation, and instead embrace the entire planet as our home. And every person on it our brother or sister, regardless of upbringing.
We all bleed the same blood. And I’ve learned that there are enlightened souls out there…people who aren’t caught in the lie of nationalism and religion and racism. People who have unplugged from The Matrix. The system I wasn’t even aware existed until I was finally outside of it myself.
I’ve learned that no matter where I go, no matter who I talk to…human beings are all the same. And the older I get, the more I realize just how epicly true the lyrics of John Lennon’s song, Imagine, really are. Because at the end of the day we are one people, one consciousness, a random mote of dust floating in an infinite spiral of endless possibilities, and we are so much more than just slaves to the machine.
The lines that governments draw on maps are nothing more than illusions. Marginal Boundaries. One Planet. One People.
But only if we wake up. Unplug. Travel the world, explore other countries, walk in other people’s shoes, eat in their homes, sleep in their beds, laugh at their jokes, live with their families, build friendships, have relationships, laugh, love, hope, dream…and evolve.