Where I’m Starting From

04 July 2011

I’ve lived my entire life within a 25-mile radius of my hometown, Canby, Oregon. When I left for college, I didn’t go far: I spent six years in Salem before returning to Canby. I now live closer to Portland, but I’m still only 20 miles from the place where I was raised.

The trailer house where I grew up
The trailer where I grew up. It’s now the office for the family business.

It’s not just me. My father’s family has deep roots in the Willamette Valley. For the fifty short years of his life, Dad barely budged a mile from the home where he grew up. And his father was born and raised less than ten miles from that spot. The Roth family settled the area in 1889 and has never left.

When I was a boy, a big trip was a weekend at the Oregon Coast. Maybe once a year, the family would pile into the car and we’d make the two-hour drive to Lincoln City, where we’d stay at a cheap motel. One time, when I was seven or eight, we drove to Salt Lake City to visit my mother’s family. And once, around the same time, we spent a weekend in Vanderhoof, British Columbia (to which my father had decided he wanted to move). But other than that, we never strayed far from home.

Note: To be fair, my family couldn’t afford to travel. Much of the time, my parents struggled to scrape by. Their priority was to put food on the table for three boys, not to see the country or the world.

For most of my adult life, I’ve remained a homebody. I’ve liked the idea of travel, but lacked the money and the motivation to actually do it. Instead, I’ve explored the world through the eyes of other people. I watch travel shows. (Yay, Rick Steves!) I read books about Europe, Asia, and Africa. I watch foreign films to get a feel for other cultures. Whenever possible, I dine out for Thai or Moroccan or Ethiopian food.

These are small things, I know, but until recently, that’s how I’ve managed to glimpse the wider world.

The Travel Bug

In the summer of 2004, my wife’s parents paid for a family vacation. They took us on a cruise through the Inside Passage, finishing with a couple of days in Anchorage, Alaska.

The cruise itself was largely forgettable — I’m not a cruise kind of guy — but I was enthralled by the various excursions we took at each port of call. At the time, it was tough to rationalize spending so much money to go crabbing or to watch whales or to bike down the Klondike Highway from the U.S.-Canadian border (descending about 850 meters in 33 kilometers). In hindsight, however, it’s these experiences that made the trip worthwhile. Seven years later, I remember each vividly. It was from them that I became infected with the travel bug.


A ten-minute video of our stop in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Over the next few years, my in-laws took the family on other vacations. We spent a week in San Francisco. We traveled to England, Ireland, and New York. I loved each trip. I loved learning about the cities and countries we visited, loved meeting new people, and loved eating the food. Dim sum in San Francisco! Bangers and mash in Bath! Curry in Cork! What I loved most about each trip, though, was finding time to walk alone through the city or countryside.

With each trip, I wanted to travel more, but I couldn’t afford it. Eventually, I paid off my debt and began to channel my savings toward travel. Kris and I took some trips on our own. We spent:

  • A week on the San Juan Islands in northwest Washington.
  • A week exploring the jungles of Belize (with a brief foray into Guatemala).
  • Ten days in Italy followed by two weeks in France.
  • Three weeks in southern Africa, including Johannesburg, Cape Town, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.

But rather than quench my thirst for travel, each trip has made me want more. And they’ve made we want to see the world in a different way.

In general, Kris and I have traveled with groups on organized tours. These trips have their merits, and they’re great for some travelers. But they make me feel insulated. It’s as if I’m in a bubble, set off from the cultures I’m supposed to be experiencing. I don’t want that. I want to meet people. I want to move slowly through a country, allowing time for the unexpected. I don’t want to be slave to a schedule.

I want to travel on my own terms.

Going It Alone

I’m fortunate. I’ve worked hard over the past five years to not only pay off my debt but to build substantial savings. As long as I cut back on other indulgences, I can afford to travel (especially if I do it cheaply).

I’ve also constructed a lifestyle that allows me to work from anywhere. As long as I have an internet connection, I can write and get paid for it. As a result, it’s possible for me to work from the road — even if the road leads through Quito or Kathmandu or Cape Town.

This flexibility is awesome, of course, but it’s also unique. Like most folks, Kris has a regular job, one that ties her to a specific location. Plus, she’s not as keen as I am to try budget travel. My friends and family are in similar positions. They can’t travel as often as I’d like, and they probably wouldn’t want to travel in the same way.

So, I’ve decided to travel alone.

Starting next month, I’ll experiment with extended solo journeys. I’ll travel lightly, carrying only the things I truly need. (I’ve been paring down my travel kit with each trip; it’s still big by the standards of veteran travelers, but it’s shrinking.) I’ll stay in hostels and dive hotels, the sorts of places Kris is wary of. I’ll do a lot of walking, a lot of talking, and a lot of eating.

Where will I go? That’s the toughest question. I want to go everywhere, and it’s difficult to decide what to see first. For the past month, I’ve been vacillating. First, I wanted to hike Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. Then, I wanted to explore Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Next, I had my heart set on Guatemala. And Ecuador. Plus, what about Thailand? And I have invitations to Rwanda and Nepal, as well. So many options!

But this morning, as I wrote this background, I made a decision. Ever since I visited England in 2007, I’ve wanted to return. I want to see the country at my pace. I want to see Avebury without being rushed. I want to stroll through the Lake Country. I want to visit Wales, to see Huw Morgan’s green valley (or what remains of it). I want to see an Everton football match. And, most of all, I want to walk Hadrian’s Wall.

England isn’t very exotic, I know. That’s okay. There’s plenty of time to see the far corners of the globe. For me, for now, I simply need to make a decision. Which I’ve done. On August 4th, I’ll fly to Indianapolis to spend time with Adam and Courtney. On August 8th, I’ll fly to London. What happens after that? You’ll have to check back here to find out!

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