The Night Rider’s Lament

Family in Europe - 95

(Family Photo, Europe, 1995)

There’s an old country classic that has always resonated with me.  It’s one of my favorites and always touches my soul in a way few songs are able to.  The song, Night Rider’s Lament, is an old cowboy song about a cow hand reading a letter from a friend late at night. The song talks of the things he’s given up or delayed to pursue the lifestyle he’s chosen.  It talks about a wonderful woman passed over, life choices, opting for a road less-traveled, and forgoing many of the things we’re culturally told we should love and define our lives by.  It then follows with a chorus about the beauty of nature, the glory of the seasons, the majesty of the world, and the different types of companionship we might experience.

I like to think that, perhaps, I inherited a sliver of the old cowboy’s soul by way of my folks and had it ingrained in me as a young kid. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on my dad’s lap on an old 1940’s Ford tractor grading the road to our house in southwestern Colorado. Despite these slightly more country roots, I’ve spent a majority of my life immersed in big cities. These cities are also where I often view myself as most comfortable and at ease.  This is the opposite of another piece of my core essence, which will always view the rural valleys deep within the San Juan Mountains as the place I think of as home when I close my eyes and let my mind wander before drifting off to sleep.  Despite that strange contrast, I’ve chosen to prioritize travel in my life. Where others invested their time and energies in passionate pursuit of a spouse, a job, a house, and a family, I’ve spent my early life chasing the horizon. To the extent that when I explain my lifestyle over the last few years to people who wonder at the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen, all I can do is shrug, smile, and explain, ‘No mortgage, no dog, no girlfriend’.  It’s not that I don’t value those things or that I don’t want them.  It’s just that for now, they’re not the thing that drives me forward.  It is a sentiment that many serial travelers may understand even though the nature of our relationship with discovery and the unknown is always different from individual to individual.

Earlier tonight as I sat besides one of the lakes here in Copenhagen, enjoying unusually warm weather on a still-crisp March evening, I took in the light of the moon, the stars, and the twinkling reflections of buildings as they cast their light across the still surface of the lake.  Lost in the moment, listening to my music as I sat smoking the tobacco pipe I picked up in southern Turkey several years ago, Night Rider’s Lament came on and it left me reflecting on where my future lies. It’s also likely no coincidence that my 29th birthday is just around the corner and with any birthday comes an added sense of introspection.

The song, combined with decisions about my future which I’ll likely be making in the next few weeks, left me thinking about choices, responsibility, distance, and family. Some might assume that when my brother and I both chose, within three days of each other, to head abroad for three-year periods with few opportunities to return stateside or to be co-present with family, that we lacked close family bonds. Yet, as I sat there staring out at the water through a small cloud of vanilla-scented smoke, I felt reunited with the rest of my loved ones. Where we’ve chosen to pursue paths that have placed us on different continents, thousands of miles apart, we still share one of the closest familial relationships I’ve ever encountered. We communicate with each other regularly, often daily, and when we do have the opportunity to come together – that’s been about once a year – we take to the road and travel together. These collective trips allow us to break free of the monotony of sterile routine and old memories, while forging new experiences which we create and share.

As I sit beneath the stars and a lazy partial moon, the smoke before me isn’t something that leaves me sitting behind a wall of solitude.  It is a connection that leaves me partially in the moment and partially reflecting on similar evenings shared with my brother, father, and mother. Sitting with our pipes, cigars, or guitars while enjoying similarly crisp spring air with views out over the Zambian bush, San Juan Mountain range, and the Scottish Isles. It is a wondrously rich experience which I treasure more than anything I own or the vast majority of my more material accomplishments.  It also puts my spirit at rest, as I wonder if I’m making and have made the right choices and if I should press forward, continuing to pursue the path I’ve chosen.

It’s no easy thing to be far from loved ones without the sense of security and permanence more traditional lifestyles provide.  Especially when we face challenging decisions, new opportunities, or the biting sense of isolation that comes with hearing about the loss of extended family, familial health issues, or in the moments where we discuss, across great distances, our fears, our frustrations, or our failings. In these moments it is tempting to pack it all in and rush back to the security and comfort that a more traditional lifestyle would offer.  Yet, it is also in these same moments that the most self growth, discovery, and realizations are born.

On that note, I’ll finish with an original song my mom gifted my brother and I which mirrors this evening’s musings and always serves as a wonderful reminder to press forward along the path I’ve chosen.  Even when it’s uncertain or uncomfortable.

Next Stop – Spain!

December 12th will mark one year to the day since I returned from my 3 month European walkabout. A trip during which I explored Scotland, England, The Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Italy, San Marino, The Vatican and Greece. While it has been less than a year and I have no right to complain, my feet have been itching for the open road, my eyes dying for new sights and my palate hankering for new tastes and foods.  I still have some great content to share and post on the usual subjects before I leave, but please be advised that for the duration of the trip (12/16/08-1/1/09) I will be publishing travel journals instead of my typical blog content.

The Research

For the past month I’ve been scouring the web for deals and information.  New Zealand’s weather, current currency rate, and beauty put it high on the list. As did the climate, exchange rate and tango dancing in Argentina.   I even considered Iceland despite the 5 hours of daylight and 35 degree highs…after all how can you beat an opportunity to visit a Scandinavian country whose currency has lost nearly half of its value in the last 5 months?  A return trip to the Greek islands also received heavy consideration.  As did Costa Rica, Hawaii and Cancun.  So many amazing destinations … each with its own flavor, its own mystery and its own adventure.

One of the most exciting things about travel is how your comfort level changes the more you do it. As I learn more about the world at large my curiosity and hunger to explore it continues to grow.  The end result is a fairly carefree approach to where I end up.  I know that no matter where I go or what part of the world I explore, I will grow as an individual while experiencing exciting new tastes, adventures and cultures.  The beauty of that approach is it allows me to be significantly more flexible when booking my trip. To use my upcoming trip as an example; despite researching possible destinations and airfare for more than a month and a half, it wasn’t until 60 minutes before I booked my flight that I knew which country/continent I was going to be traveling to.  30 minutes after that I’d narrowed the destination down to Barcelona and Madrid and shortly there after my ticket was booked.  There are few sensations like clicking “submit” and knowing that you just invested a sizable chunk of money in airfare and have committed to a new adventure. In its own way it’s every bit as exciting as a state of the art roller coaster ride and I find it often leaves me with similar butterflies in my stomach.

Unfortunately, the only time I’m able to get off is between December 16th and the 4th of January.  As a result of the holiday travel, airfare skyrockets during this period – even on international flights. As it turned out airfare to Argentina was over $500 more than a trip to Spain with airfare to New Zealand coming in at $800-$1000 more. Places like Hawaii, Cancun, and Puerto Rico were cheaper, but only by about $200.  By flying out on the 16th (my earliest possible date) and being willing to fly home on New Year’s Day, I was able to find airfare more than $200+ dollars cheaper than if I tried to fly back on the 2nd-4th.

The Resources

I do most of my booking research through Lessno.com and Kayak.com both of which do an excellent job searching multiple carriers and returning quality results.  While both offer a flexible date search the matrix which Lessno generates is the best I’ve seen on a travel booking site and allows for a much wider date range than Kayak.  On the flip side, with registration, Kayak’s daily fare monitoring e-mails can be really useful.  I did my actual booking, however, through FlyCheapAbroad.com which is the same service I booked through last year.  The website looked unprofessional and left me a bit nervous, but every time I’ve used them so far, they have delivered quality service and an unbeatable price.  The flight I ended up booking through them was the exact same flight that came up on Kayak but for more than $40 less.  Hopefully they won’t disappoint.  For those considering a flight to Hawaii or New Zealand, I discovered that Hawaiian Airlines and Air New Zealand/Qantas all run fantastic specials 1/2-2/3 of the lowest prices on Kayak and other search sites.  If you’re booking far enough in advance, it always pays to double check with the carrier and see what they’re offering.

With all of the global economic issues the dollar has been skyrocketing and while this may not be incredible for the US economy, it’s every travelers dream. The US dollar has gained over 20% against several major currencies over the last 6 months, and shows no signs of slowing down. It’s a great time to travel if you’ve been lucky enough to avoid the flood of pink slips going out.

The Destination

As mentioned above, I ended up selecting Spain as my destination.  My travel style is backpack/hostel based and takes a very play-it-by-ear approach.  I’ve booked my ticket so I know my starting and ending destination, but that’s about the extent of it.  I’ll be booking a hostel ahead of time in Spain for my first 2 nights and another over Christmas as a precautionary step, but beyond that my trip will be fluid.  While I may end up making it over to Portugal, it’s more likely that I’ll be focusing on southern Spain.  16 days should be just about the right amount of time to give southern Spain a somewhat thorough going over.  Similar to the first 2 months of my trip last year I’ll be traveling on my own and I’ll use Hostelworld.com, Couchsurfing.com and Hostelbookers to find and book my accommodations.

I’m eager to re-visit Spain and see it through an adult’s eyes and perception (I spent time there when I was 11 back in ’95) . I’m also thrilled to have an opportunity to explore a piece of Europe I skipped over during my last trip.   I’d love to make it over into southern France but highly doubt I’ll even make it as far as Barcelona.

One exciting addition to the trip that I did not have with me last year is an ultra portable Flip Camera. If all goes according to plan I should have the usual travel photos as well as exciting new video to share with you all.

Have tips, suggestions or ideas on where to go/see and stay?  Please share them in the comments section below! It’s time to do a bit of wayfaring!