Turning 30 – Birthday Reflections On Life, Achievement and Travel

Prolific travelers often joke that we have commitment issues.  It’s a joke I’ve often made – after all, when folks asked how on earth I could pick up everything and re-locate to Europe for a 2-year Master’s or how I seemed to perpetually be traveling I would flash a smile, shrug, and explain, “No mortgage, no dog, no girlfriend”.   There is, undoubtedly, some truth to this somewhat cavalier statement…but it’s simultaneously an equal part bullshit. I don’t have issues committing and I’m most certainly not running from things.  There is a path I chose a number of years ago, mostly aware of the trade offs. I do not commit casually and I do not commit without reason.  Why?  Because each commitment is a rope (or chain) which binds us to a place and time.  The weight of these can, at times, be light or transient but even the smallest commitment, when taken seriously, is binding.

All Abroad - Train Travel

In life I can be uncompromising though I combine this with a personality and lifestyle which might seem in direct conflict due to its fluidity and socially-engaged but relaxed approach. How can someone who grew up with a mediator-oriented personality and leadership style be simultaneously uncompromising? As I’ve matured as a person and grown increasingly confident in myself, my abilities, and the decisions I make I find myself less inclined to doubt myself and more ok with the trade-offs that come with decisive decision making.

Family in Europe - 95

Today I turn 30.  It is an interesting opportunity to step back, reflect, and share some of my observations to date. Below you’ll find a mixture of items I think you may find interesting – either as insights to reflect upon, or as advice garnered from life-lessons I’ve learned and am happy to share.  Others are just general musings about issues I find interesting, which weigh on my mind, or which have shaped the person who I am today.

I Decided Against Travel Blogging As A Career – Here’s Why

I recently accepted a full time job. With that acceptance I concretely closed a chapter of my life during which I came very close to pursuing full time travel blogging as my career. Make no mistake, VirtualWayfarer isn’t changing, it just isn’t going to be a platform for my full-time career either.  Over the last two years many friends have expressed surprise that I chose not to pursue travel blogging as a career. Here’s a somewhat simplified explanation of why I made the decision to return to the corporate world and how I shaped that return to maximize my travel opportunities and work-life balance.

Back in early 2012 I found myself on the ground floor of the travel blogging industry’s professionalization.  Between 2011 and 2013 the industry underwent significant changes as travel blogging grew up.  Now, granted, there’s still major room for maturation and the industry lags behind similar blogging sectors like Fashion and Food. Still, what has been accomplished and happened to the Travel Blogging industry is extremely impressive and has been driven, in no small part, by a handful of individuals.

I’ve had the deep pleasure of knowing many of these individuals and enjoyed the opportunity for candid conversations and late night brainstorming sessions.  I’ve also had the opportunity to observe as they struggled to re-shape the travel blogging industry, to stand out, and to craft their own business.  These conversations and observations combined with my own first hand experiences as a fairly well-recognized travel blogger guided me to where I am today and have played a pivotal role in my ultimate decision.

It wasn’t an easy decision but looking back there were two key watershed moments.

A Grand New Adventure – Working in Denmark

July 21st, 2011 found me tearfully saying goodbye to my Parents.  I’d just sent three hulking bags through security and had a knot in my stomach that left me sympathizing with Atlas – at that moment we both felt as though we held the world upon our shoulders.  I was about to launch a grand new adventure, one that had a very unknown ending.  A few long hours later I arrived in Denmark and the rest, as they say, is history.

When I arrived in Denmark I only had one contact through a friend of a friend of a friend. In previous posts I’ve talked about how he saved my butt and deserves no small amount of credit for me making it through those first few months (Thanks Søren!). Those stories and so many more are archived here on VirtualWayfarer. They mark grand adventures, realizations, and a slow series of basic decisions – yes, or no – that led me forward. The conclusion of my Master’s marked the end of one grand chapter, just as it gave birth to what came next: the decision that I wasn’t done with Denmark yet, and that I needed to stay. The last year and a half was another chapter.  One that came with incredible challenges, wonderful growth, and the attainment of a number of life goals. Now, with today’s announcement, that chapter winds to a close and another, equally exciting one begins.
The Beach Visit

The News

What’s the big announcement?  Well, have no fear. I’m not pregnant. Nor did I manage to go diving with great whites and get eaten.  In fact, for this news I’m not even leaving Denmark…or perhaps I should say, that IS the news.

Copenhagen Under Siege

It’s just after 2:30A.M and I’m freshly returned to my apartment.  As I write this quick update the majority of the Copenhagen Police department is mobilized with what looks like military backup.  An active shooter remains on the loose in the heart of Copenhagen.  Trains are bypassing Norreport station and all vehicles entering and exiting the area are being checked at Police checkpoints.  In addition to a level of mobilization you almost never see from the Danish Police, they are also armed with assault weapons and in heavy bulletproof gear. They are on high alert and have been targeted repeatedly by the gunman. Right now it looks like at least five officers have been injured by the gunman, one civilian is dead, with a fifth individual also likely dead or in severe condition after being shot in the head.

*The suspect was engaged in a gunfight with Police early Sunday morning and has now been shot and killed* – 11AM (2/15/15)

I spent my evening dancing Salsa and Bachata in the city center.  My evening ended around 1:20AM…shortly after the apparent second shooting by the gunman, which took place near Norreport station at a Synagogue (about a 5 minute walk from where I was).  As we approached Nyhavn my friend and I noticed that it was extremely quiet for a Saturday evening (and Valentines Day no less).  There were two officers standing guard with assault rifles clearly visible.  I assumed it was a show of force for tourists as a precaution after the shooting which had occurred earlier in the day.  It was only as we got closer that I realized they were likely standing guard over the French Embassy which sits kitty corner to Nyhavn.  We spoke to them briefly and they informed us that a second shooting had taken place and advised that we return home.  Abandoning our stroll along Nyhavn we turned towards the Metro. As we did an unmarked van pulled up. It was full of what looked like a strategic military response team.

Discover Your True Self – #Studyabroadbecause

From time to time I’m asked to do interviews about my travel or study abroad experiences.  In the past I’ve been bad about sharing those here on VirtualWayfarer.  These interviews surface a different side of my travel experience and offer me a chance to offer advice through a slightly different lens.  As a result, I’ll aim to be better about linking to the most content rich of these interviews when I do them. The latest of which was an invitation to weigh in on why people should study abroad while simultaneously sharing my own study abroad story. I’ve re-produced the first two questions in the Q&A here. Make sure to click over to Wandering Educators for the full interview.

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

My story is fairly complex. As a kid, my parents homeschooled my brother and I in place of 5th and 7th grade. 5th grade was spent backpacking Europe. 7th grade was spent in a 32-foot 5th-wheel trailer as we took a year and drove across the United States. I did my first study abroad the summer of my Freshman year of College. I was incredibly nervous despite the childhood trips. It was a 6.5 week Honors study abroad program in the British Isles. I debated doing a full semester or year and really wanted to, but could never work up the nerve. The summer program ended up being a great experience. Despite loving it and really flexing my travel muscle, I still never quite worked up the courage over the remaining 3 years of my BA to do a full semester or year abroad.

When I graduated, I turned around and tossed caution to the wind. After 4 years of being worried about doing a solo semester abroad, I closed my eyes and jumped into a 3 month solo trip through Europe. I figured it was now or never. It was amazing. I returned to a full-time job in Mergers and Acquisitions, where I managed two 16-21 day trips a year for the next 3 years. Then, tired of Arizona and eager to return for a Master’s, I applied to a number of schools selected based purely on reputation, the appeal of their location, and if they had a communication program. My methodology? A list of the top 50 Universities in the world and an afternoon of research. I ended up with 8 Universities split between 4 PhD programs (trying to skip the MA) and 4 MA programs. Of these, 3 were in Europe. All of the PhDs rejected me and the MA decision came down to Georgetown in D.C. or the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Georgetown wanted $30k in tuition a year. University of Copenhagen offered me a complete tuition waiver…as well as a 2 year visa to live in and explore Europe. The opportunity to do what I hadn’t had the nerve to do previously was too enticing to resist (and that tuition waiver helped).

Despite having only spent 2 days in Denmark during a trip the year before, I relocated figuring I’d see what happened and give it a go. It was one of the best and most pivotal decisions of my life.

Zambian Children – Weekly Travel Photo

During my time in Zambia, my  understanding of children and what they are capable of fundamentally changed. Not only did the children of rural Zambia awe me with their love of life, constant smiles, and zeal for enjoying every moment – they also showed me how many of the narratives about western children and their abilities are grossly misplaced. The children I met and observed were responsible. They were capable. They worked well together and looked after each other.  It made it clear to me that the way we coddle children in the US, Europe, and other parts of the industrialized world has come with a cost.  On the one hand it means those children get to enjoy their childhood in a carefree fashion which is wonderful and something I wish more of the Zambian kids got to enjoy.

Malaga In January – A Pleasant Surprise

Seville, Granada, Cadiz … these are the cities that spring to mind when you talk about southern Spain in winter. Cities with rich architectural history, stunning old towns, vibrant cultural attractions and a charm guaranteed to steal your heart.  Malaga? Not so much. Unless, that is, you’re on the hunt for ugly cement resorts, overly crowded beaches, shady tourist restaurants, and an old city swallowed long ago by the forward march of industry and excessive tourism.  At least, that’s the Malaga I expected. My lazy Google pre-trip search did little to assuage my concerns. Photos from above showed me a modern city with beaches and a skyline marked by the jarring sight of ugly hotel elbowing its way in front of ugly hotel.  A perusal of a few top 10 things to do in Malaga lists further cemented my plan to use Malaga and more specifically its airport as a cheap way-station to get into and out of as quickly as possible.

Florence in Black and White – Weekly Travel Photo & Product Review

Holding my breath I closed my eyes. Around me the auditory press of a vibrant Italian city roared about its daily business. Filtering through the array of sounds I sorted out the thread I was looking for – a rhythmic sound. An organic sound. The sound of boat paddles slicing smoothly into the currents of the river, extricating itself, and slowly dripping droplets of water in its wake. It was the subtle splash of a boat advancing against the current and immediately triggered memories of my childhood. Of times spent in Mexico in a small inflatable kayak paddling gracelessly against coastal currents and a mild wind. So much was different and yet so much was similar. The sleek suggestion of movement, the groan of the oar, and the sound of the boat cutting through the water.