Personal Journal – 13 “RTW” Reflections

This time last year I was bouncing around the roads of Bhutan with Namgay and Tobgay. Namgay taught me about an American song I may never listen to again titled Sutter Mill. I taught Namgay and Tobgay about Snoop Dogg, the Roots and Biggie Smalls – artists I doubt they will ever listen to again. (I’m not sure how it came to Bhutan but search “Sutter Mill Dan Fogleberg” on YouTube, half the comments are in Bhutanese.) It was great spending my days exploring, taking photos, enjoying exotic food and drink – living a dream. As I reflect on this a year removed from Bhutan, I realize extended travel was much more than just exploring the world.

I randomly journal and while I was traveling I had a small journal habit of noting 13 thoughts.  A list of thoughts in the moment.  In this moment, I offer this public journal of 13 reflections, a year removed from my around the world journey.

(Side bar – ((I’m back to work in the world of business so I can use catchphrases like side bar and “lets take a step back here” now in my speech and writing…).) I’m writing this on a regional jet traveling from Houston to Kansas City. The guy next to me keeps farting and looking around like someone else is doing it…so this public journal entry is also an exercise in distraction from his flatulance.  I can feel the seat vibrate, bro…)

Seat Mate should use this

13 Reflections from an around the world journey. 


1. Humanity.  You learn on the road that we may look a little different from one another sometimes but overall, everyone pretty much has the same wants and needs, regardless of socio economic class.  I’m not talking about just wanting the coolest phones or hottest looks, marketing is a given the world over.  In general, everybody just wants happiness, peace and love.  Most think you get there by focusing on the pursuit of money, power, fame or sensual pleasures…(marketing)…but we all really want the same thing, happiness in our day, peace in our lives and someone to love and share it with.  Seeing that all over the world is pretty cool.

2.  Vulnerability.  When you travel, every day you are wrong.  Every day you walk into the unknown.  Everyday you make yourself vulnerable and everyday you grow.  Travel teaches you to push past the fear of being vulnerable and helps you step up to life by opening your heart, mind and self to the world.  I believe we are way too comfortable.  Often, the most arousing thing that happens in a day is to get embarrassed. (“OMG Becks, I totally snorted when I laughed in that meeting!”) Rarely do we open ourselves to being vulnerable.  To be wrong or admit we are wrong. To express our feelings of love for someone if we fear they do not reciprocate.  To walk into a place called border bingo in Laredo, Texas because you are curious…(they do not care for gringos.) Often, we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable for fear of embarrassment.  Get uncomfortable and enjoy outcome – it will surprise you.


3.  Smile.  Smiles are powerfully good communicators. Sometimes a smile is the only form of communication you may share when traveling. Two smiles in China led to two incredible experiences.  The first was an impromptu lesson, in Chinese, on how to make sweet and sour pork.  The second prevented me from getting my ass kicked by a pissed off cab driver.  In both situations the end result was the reinforcement of all of the good there is in the world and how a simple smile can communicate peace and drastically change a situation.

4.  The hardest part….Taking a risk and just doing it.  Saying yes to your dream.  Thats the hard part because so many other choices like working your great job make a lot of sense too.  When you feel the pull of a dream and feel it should be followed, take the risk…do what you need to do to live the life you think you want and enjoy every second of it.  When it comes to extended travel specifically, buying the tickets, saving the money, making basic plans and quitting your job are the easy parts of an around the world trip.  The hardest part of extended travel itself is just leaving the people you love…but millions of people do this each day so you get past that.  (Talk to a soldier sometime.)  When you do leave, it helps when your father is a comedian and to ease his suffering in that moment yells, “write when you find work son!  Send money!” while you are in the TSA line.  Which makes you laugh/cry so you snort and then you’re embarrassed and suddenly you snot your shirt your going to wear for the next 27 hours…and you realize that none of that matters.  So you learn one of the most important lessons before the wheels leave the tarmac.

Do It

5. Change. When you travel, you learn quickly that the only constant in life is change.  Changed schedules, plans and reservations. Destinations, travel partners, the stuff you carry, buy, have stolen or leave behind.  Change…impermanence… is the only permanent thing in our world.  Travel reminds you of this daily. Being comfortable with change, accepting that everything changes, and learning how to react in a peaceful and loving way when faced with change is a wonderful byproduct of an extended journey.

6.  Beauty. Oh the world is full of beauty and you will see it everywhere when its just you and a backpack.  Beautiful people, places, natural wonders.  Beautiful food and drinks.  Art, music, nature, faith.  I’m fortunate to have seen many spectacular examples of all of these words.  For me, the most beautiful part of our world is us.  People.  We do amazing things.  I’m awed by the thought of how many people I have seen or interacted with around the world.  Think of all of the faces we pass, milliseconds sometimes.  We touch many lives in the seconds we interact with those we will never know.  Travel adds beauty to the world because you can change the world with your lovely smile.

lovely smiles

7.  American exceptionalism…we pretty much invented this idea.  We are cool and sure lots of people would love to come to America to learn or earn some money but they want to take it right back home. It’s nice to get over ourselves and be reminded that while our country is great everyone else loves their country too and many of those countries are just as great. Equality, non judgement and respect for all begin to prevail when you travel.

8.  Hope.  When you spend months in airplane mode, connections limited to free wifi hotspots without breaking news alerts, twitter, Facebook and all of the other wonderful ways to connect – you are forced to observe the world and see it as it is through your own lens.  I have seen a lot of horrible things while traveling – poverty, death, human trafficking – much suffering. (The wonderful people I have met fighting for social welfare around the world give me hope.) Little things though, like the Nepalese bus driver who stopped, it seemed at the time to pick up even more people on an already overloaded bus, stopped for three more. Three people got on which turned out to be his wife, son and daughter.  The driver was so happy as they joined the 50 of us on a bus built for 20 it was hard to be frustrated. (I was seated comfortably between and elderly couple and their rooster, on the front edge of the bus, riding sideways and backwards all at the same time. Chatting with the rooster and listening to The Roots trying to figure out how I screwed up that lesson with Namgay…) BUT,  the son was so happy to be with his dad he sat next to his father the whole of trip, his hand on the gear shift so every time we violently overtook someone on an overloaded scooter, the father would take the sons hand to shift.  Those are moments which remind us of all of the beauty in this world…beauty gives me hope.

Nepal Kids

Nepal Kids

9.  Joy.  I love joy.  The word.  The feeling.  Experiencing joy.  Joy to me is like happiness on really good drugs.  For some reason I experience joy more amoung the truly unknown…when I’m my most vulnerable I guess.  Like when you duck in a tiny noodle stand and order a spicy beef noodle and notice everyone watching you.  Staring. Waiting. Anticipating.  Not because you are the random white guy lost and hungry but because they know you have never had this spicy beef noodle and they want to see the joy on your face when that heavenly dish crosses your lips.  Joy.  It sneaks up on you.  On the road, it seems to sneak up a little more often.

10.  Self.  Travel allows you to be anything or anybody you want.  I mean, most of the people you interact with you may never see ever again even though we all have Facebook.  So you can lie and say you are a cowboy or an architect or a mushroom farmer or any wild thing you think is cool to describe you.  Like a little fantasy character. You can even make up your own name.  Something catchy like “Chet Relsnac, Oil man from North Alberta. Working in Houston now. Yep, rough neck to corporate I tell you!” (That may or may not be my alter ego when in Canadian bars…I don’t think Canadians read this blog…). What is even more interesting is while this is possible, when traveling you tend to really embrace being you.  Being your self.  The labels and stuff we use to define our selves or our worth when at home, don’t count on the road.  You are simply Grant and you are defined by the only thing you own, your actions.  It’s beautiful to strip it all away and just be you.

Yep, this is a selfie

11. The art of relaxation…extended travel is hard work.  It’s not being a tourist lazing in the Maldives.  Sure it’s not the daily grind but if you intend to make this change and pursue extended travel, know what you are getting in to because its not a year long vacation.  Its even better.

12.  Simplify.

13. Happiness.  Many of us travel to be or find happiness. (Initially.)  What we find instead is that happiness is not possible without suffering. You learn, eventually, to appreciate those moments of suffering, anger or pain as much as you enjoy pure blissful joy and happiness when those feelings arise.  Yes, you appreciate the suffering as much as the happiness because neither feeling lasts forever and, on the road, you are reminded that in suffering, there is happiness.  Everyday on the road you are reminded that happiness is possible in every moment because you are forced to live not dwelling on the past or planning your future, but living fully in the present moment. This is it!

Sweet & Sour Thumbs Up

And one to grown on…you learn you can poop anywhere when you travel.  You learn you can poop in any kind of poop receiving device anywhere in the world.  Sometimes that spicy beef noodle soup that changed your life on the way in really changes your life on the way out…on a train. In China. In second class.  Where there isn’t so much a squat toilet but a hole in the floor a few hundred other people have been using, both successfully and unsuccessfully, for days. And you have to squat over the hole with your personal TP tucked under your chin while you use your hands and arms to brace yourself on the walls because the train is swaying violently…all to enjoy spicy beef noodle “round two”.  When you realize you have been successful in this endeavor, you no longer fear the toilets without bowls, lids, feet pads or even toilets that remain stationary…and when you fear no toilet, there is nothing else left to fear in this beautiful world.

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4 Responses to “Personal Journal – 13 “RTW” Reflections”

  1. debbie cansler
    October 19, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

    Beautiful reflections Grant that teach us all so much! I just smile:)
    Love you mom

  2. Charlotte
    October 21, 2013 at 2:45 am #

    Your writing is so very visual and from the heart. It’s such joy to read. Love the pics of the kids.

  3. Marylee Newman
    October 21, 2013 at 2:45 am #


    Your pictures and reflections are refreshing, humorous at times, and relaxing to read. The world needs more people like you, willing to share deep thoughts with everyone. So glad to have met you!

    Your friend,

    • October 30, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

      Thank you so much Marylee – I really appreciate your kind words – so happy you enjoyed this post. Thank you!

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