On The Bus, A New Man (or, The Culmination of a Decade of Transformation)

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

How has travel changed your life? Can you pinpoint a single moment – a day, an hour, a split second – when you knew that things had changed? How did that change impact your life, both on your travels and at home?

of all things, a bus ride was my transformative moment, though i don’t think i recognized it at the time. i’ve been contemplating this blog post over the past couple days, and i can safely put my finger on the ride back from český krumlov to prague as the point at which i opened a new chapter in my life.

on the surface, yes, it was the end of a week-long trip, but beyond that, it was the culmination of a handful of disparate, yet intertwined inner changes that started nearly a decade prior.

first, some background (tl;dr: i used to be shy and had low self-esteem)

growing up, i was an introvert; in hindsight i was really insecure and overly self-conscious. that was evident in how i hated going into stores if i was the only customer there (thinking all the salespeople would be staring at me) or eating alone or, well, any sort of activity where i could be judged without the comfort and safety net of being in a group of friends.

i went out of state for college (1995) and, for the first time, starting feeling truly alive. it was there that i started emerging from my metaphorical shell. slowly but surely, i started coming into my own and being comfortable with myself. i was free from the confines of my overprotective parents (excellent parents who first introduced me to travel, but think tiger mom but with church thrown in as well) and high school (where i had a blast, but i was sheltered and pigeonholed in the nerd clique). i finished college with expanded horizons and dwindling insecurities.

over the next couple of years i flourished (heh), to the point of being probably unrecognizable (and unfathomable) to the me of a decade earlier. i learned to be myself, with no apologies.

The view from my hostel bed in Český Krumlov

fast foward to january of 2005

i’m not quite sure what all possessed me to go alone, backpacking and hosteling, at the ripe old age of 27. i think a lot had to do with the way i was feeling (and somewhat still do), that i had to reclaim a lost youth. sure, i enjoyed travel and had been to europe and india and hong kong before, but that was with family or friends, and there was still that whole college backpack around thing that eluded me. i figured a week in the czech would be a fine start. it only made sense to try a solo trip: it was what everything was building up to.

i bought a plane ticket, booked some hostels, bought a backpack, and off i went! who knew it would bloom into a passion for travel and the dawning of a new age! (ok, perhaps that’s a bit grandiose, but really, for me, it  was.)

yes. the bus ride. it was on that ride, in hindsight, since i can now connect the dots, that i proved to myself that i was my own man. i was no longer the guy who would get flushed and sweaty with just the thought of buying clothes at the gap. i triumphed, empowered and emboldened from a week alone in a foreign country, where i made friends with people i never thought i would or could be friends with, where i explored an entire city with no support system save a printout of sightseeing hotspots and a camera. from then on, i knew this was something i had to keep doing.

my seatmate on that three-hour bus ride was the girl who shared the hostel room in český krumlov with me. we talked and listened to each other’s music and laughed and it was just so different, so something i would never have done before. i was a new man.

and i discovered that the new me feeds on travel and encountering the world.

i do not lament the fact that it took me so long to begin to feel comfortable in my own skin, and i love that this continuing transformation is so tightly coupled with getting on a jet plane and discovering humanity (including my own!). the ultimate effect is that with each trip i not only learn more about the human experience, but i prove to myself that i am continually becoming a better person. both of these facets are incredibly alluring for me: there is not one day that passes where i don’t daydream about going somewhere. some might call it unhealthy, but it’s what keeps me sane.

random side note: i still remember passing by this nuclear power plant on that bus, thinking how i’ve never been so close to one before.


Today’s #frifotos — Special Moments

a pretty random amalgamation of experiences in my life that i really treasure. the pictures aren’t great but that’s ok because it’s the memories that count. less photo quality this time, more experience quality. (and not always travel-related.)

My dog (then a two-month old puppy) Aubrey's first day home

Český Krumlov, part of my first solo trip, where I discovered the cathartic joy of solitude (Czech Republic, 2005)

Watching Desmond Tutu speak at a rally for Tibet (San Francisco, 2008)

The final concert (and one of the best concerts I've ever been to) of my favorite German band, Virginia Jetzt! (Berlin, 2010)

My first high speed train ride (Cologne, Germany, 2003)

The anticipation of seeing my favorite sport live for the first time. I got there so early! (Winter Olympics, Turin, Italy, 2006)

Meeting Imogen Heap in LA

Watching a mommy lion play with her cubs (on safari, South Africa, 2011)

Driving on the Autobahn soon after I moved to Germany (on the road from Frankfurt to Tübingen, 2005)


(i’m starting a little late on the BootsnAll 30 Days of Indie Travel blogging project, so i’m kind of picking and choosing which of the 10 existing prompts i want to answer. here goes!)

my first solo trip (i.e,. the one that really cemented my love of travel) was to the czech republic in early 2005. i’d never backpacked before (unless you count two or three horrible years in the boy scouts when i was in early high school), and i had no idea what to expect. after spending three days in prague, i went down to český krumlov for another three. 

my god, those were magical days. 

it was warm for early january, but the old town was absolutely deserted. i would walk around and see absolutely no other tourists. 

i didn’t really have any plans; i was just told it was a beautiful old town with an amazing castle (both true), so i just wandered around town, sitting down on the river bank just staring off into the distance or standing on a bridge listening to the roar of the water below me. up and down the castle, smelling the smoke from the wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. 

the soundtrack for this trip, which i will never forget, was the garden state soundtrack. cliché? i guess so, but perfectly fitting. remember at the end of the movie when they’re standing in the rain, just screaming? there was no screaming in český krumlov, but for the first time in my life, i was doing something i never expected i would do: go out and travel by myself, to a country i knew next to nothing (until i started researching) about. there was this amazing sense of catharsis and inner peace i had never felt before. i was finally breaking new ground, physically and emotionally: just being alone, exploring a centuries-old town.

there really is no way to put into words those indelible memories, even over half a decade and many countries later, but suffice it to say, the garden state soundtrack was perfect. unobtrusive yet (and i’m not ashamed to say), soul-stirring while helping to instill an inner peace. (well, it makes sense to me.)

see all my #indie30 posts