It’s 8:30am Monday morning and I’m averaging around 3mph sitting in Atlanta’s awful rush-hour traffic. I come up on an exit about 12 stops before where I need to go and I have a flashback. Just 5 days ago, I was on a cliff in Panama and I immediately said to myself “Dude, it’s not too late to take that exit, sell everything you own and become a world traveling nomad for the rest of your life.” Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.
This little conversation with myself took place two weeks ago on my way to my first day back at work. Almost exactly a year ago, I was finishing consulting work for one of the nation’s mobile phone carriers about to embark on a trip to Australia. What started out as a little “me” time turned into a 12 month extremely fulfilling journey across the globe.
How Did This Come About
I only have one life to live and I want to get the most out of it. When I’m 90 years old and toothless, I hope to be able to look back on the pictures/videos of my life and not have any “I wished I had done X” moments. Some years ago when I was running my own business, I realized I had a lot of money and a number of ‘things’ but no real life. That realization (and associated burnout) lead me to take a nearly three year break from working to do things I’d never done, like riding motorcycles, boating and moving to South Beach. Although I wasn’t burnt out at all this time, I felt it was a good opportunity to explore the rest of the world.
I wanted to do something I’d always wanted to do, discover something about a different culture and hopefully, learn something about myself. The destination list came from my existing Bucket List or a particular activity was only possible at a specific destination, like Shark Diving in South Africa. I would have loved to have visited all 7 continents, but trips to Antarctica were extremely expensive ($6,000 and up). The final destination count turned out to be 6 continents, 12 countries and 23 cities as listed in order below (click any image to see a full-sized version):
|Australia – Sydney, Cairns and Melbourne
Attempted surfing in Sydney (hilarious), the Great Barrier Reef is utterly amazing and my Harley ride out to Melbourne’s wine country was awesome!
|Belgium – Brussels
Not often does one get to stand in the middle of a historic site, but Brussels’ Waterloo was quite interesting. Oh yea, the Belgians have excellent beer!
Wonderfully cosmopolitan city; ferries & locks, Seahawks game, even caught a fish down at the famous Pike Place market. Now we could do something about this rain – geez!
|Mexico – Cancun
Although heavily Americanized, had an excellent time taking part in the water sporting activities. Cenotes, scuba diving, ATV tours – Cancun has it covered.
|Las Vegas, NV
There’s much more to Vegas than showgirls and gambling; my favorites were the Dune Buggy adventure, the Gun Store, indoor skydiving and a trek to the Grand Canyon.
|Cuba – Havana
The forbidden land! Marvelous people and remarkable culture. Cigar/Rum factories, the real Tropicana and 1950s Buicks are just a few of the amazing sights. A must see for all Americans before the embargo falls.
|Thailand – Bangkok, Phuket
Though Bangkok was hot in more ways than one, it still managed to mesmerize this traveler’s senses. Phuket has some of the most beautiful scenery in the region – some say the world.
I’m not into the Disney hoopla so I was pleasantly surprised by the number of cool things to do in Orlando. Ziplines, Horseback riding, Nascar driving and best of all – becoming a Fighter Pilot!!
|San Francisco, CA
Where can you windsurf, visit Yosemite National park, tour a 100 year prison in Alcatraz, take a wine tour and attend the opera in the same weekend? The Bay Area, that’s where.
No need for a passport, Miami will give you all of the Caribbean and Latin American vibes you need.
|Costa Rica – Liberia, Arenal and San Jose
Diving/nightlife in Coco-Beach was out of the ordinary, San Jose’s big city life was cool but neither could compare to the volcano, zip-lines, white water rafting and hot springs of Arenal.
|South Africa – Johannesburg, Kruger National Park and Cape Town
There is a lot more to do in J’Burg than people give credit. A wildlife safari is something I think everyone should have the privilege to experience at least once. Shark, cliffs and wine – yep, Cape Town has them all.
|Brazil – Rio de Janeiro, Foz de Iguaçu
Brazilians buy their clothes in one size – tight; and for that I thank them! Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf and Tijuca National Park were all stunners.
|Argentina – Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires
Iguazu Falls is the most amazing natural phenomenon I’ve seen in my life – period! Every time I see a waterfall from this point on in my life, it will pale in comparison to my memories these amazing falls. Buenos Aires is like an outdoor museum.
|Uruguay – Colonia de Sacramento
Sleepy colonial UNESCO World Heritage site.
|Panama – Panama City
The Panama Canal, colonial ruins, diving the Pacific/Atlantic oceans and some of the most beautiful women I’ve seen in my life. Really.
Every single destination was an opportunity to learn something or cross something off of my bucket list. If I had to choose a favorite, it would likely be my trip to South Africa. The culture of Johannesburg, the amazing safari in Kruger National Park and the majestic beauty of Cape Town put it slightly ahead of Australia.
Was this Expensive?
A question I got quite often is how I was able to take a year off of work in the middle of a global recession to travel the world. Well, the first and most important requirement is that you must want to do it. For me, I simply did not want to work for a while so doing something that I enjoyed doing in its place was a breeze. Once the decision was made to explore the world, I had to figure out a budget.
The biggest cost with almost any vacation is the airfare; something I was able to eliminate almost completely. As my job required me to travel across the country once a month for business, I racked up over 300,000 Delta Skymiles by the time I left. This meant that every flight to the destinations above (with the exception of Australia) were purchased with Skymiles and nearly free (usually less than $60 taxes). In addition, I had a boatload of Hilton Honors points that allowed me to stay in their properties around the world for free (at least until the points ran out). When I ran out of Hilton points, my Gold status provided me with free breakfast, drinks, room upgrades and Internet access – saving me additional money.
Even with my free flights and mostly free hotels – my year long sabbatical across the globe was still quite expensive. The reason is the things I like to do cost money. Jumping out of airplanes, going on Safari, repelling down mountains and swimming with sharks to name a few, isn’t cheap. Furthermore, some destinations are simply more expensive overall due to unfavorable conversion rates for the US Dollar – the Euro (Brussels) and the CUC (Cuba) to name a few. Having said that, just because my year long adventure was expensive doesn’t mean yours has to be. There are several backpackers traveling multiple continents on as little as $30 a day – including room, food, etc.
So, the long answer to the short questions is – I got most of the bigger costs free and saved up enough money to spend freely on the somewhat expensive things I always wanted to do.