Are You Making Good Memories, or Just Marking Time?

Making memories in Maisan, Korea. April 1997

There are plenty of naval-gazing travel blogs out there and from the start of this one in 2003, I’ve tried to be more useful than that. This is primarily a blog about how to travel well for less, how to get more out of your travel budget and maybe learn something, grow a little, and become a better person through the experience.

But this morning I heard a report on NPR about how it was 20 years ago today when Rodney King gave his “Can’t we all just get along?” speech in Los Angeles. This was in the midst of the 1992 riots after the four white police officers that beat him up (with TV news cameras recording it) were acquitted. I was watching it all on a TV screen in a bar facing Central Park in New York City. I was having drinks with the Charlatans UK, one of the bands I did marketing for at RCA Records.

So how did I get from there to here? I thought it would be fun to look at where I was and what I was doing soon after that, then 5, 10, 15 years later.

Almost exactly two years later, I was in Los Angeles myself, but only on a layover on my way to Japan, the first stop on my first round-the-world journey. I hadn’t traveled all that much before, honestly. Lots in the U.S., a few trips to Canada and the Caribbean, but nothing all that exotic. This was my time though. I had gotten fired from my job after being way too honest with my boss way too many times. My girlfriend’s company had gone bankrupt. We had talked about traveling long-term and if we were waiting for a sign, these were two big ones. We sold most of what we owned, rented out my condo, and hit the road.

Five years after that Rodney King speech, my journal was my “Easy P.P. Spring Notebook.” I was on month six of a one-year English teaching contract in Korea. My now-wife and I had traveled through Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel before settling down in Korea to replenish our finances. Over the course of the year, we worked our tails off but managed to save around $30,000. (That financed another year of travel and gave us a big cushion when we returned.) We traveled a lot around South Korea, sometimes seemingly being the only foreigners in town, and gained the kind of cultural experience you can only get from living somewhere for a while.

Ten years after those L.A. riots, in April 2002, I was in the midst of enjoying 9 weeks of severance pay after surviving four rounds of layoffs and getting caught in the fifth. This was the aftermath of the dot-com bubble and since I’d returned to the U.S., I’d been working for a tech company, writing just at night and on weekends. I was based in Nashville, but the home office was in Silicon Valley—tech bust central. But I had started writing my first book and now I had time to really get on it. Plus I had more time to spend with my new baby, who was a year and a half and chattering away already.

Fifteen years after those drinks while the riots raged, in 2007, I had mostly cut ties with any non-writing jobs and was making a living writing, editing, and ghostwriting books for business clients. We bought a little beach house in the Yucatan state of Mexico and all traveled to Guatemala. I got invited on a press trip to South Africa and Botswana and I took my wife to Peru, where we hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I launched Perceptive Travel. This blog turned four. I won a Grand Prize for a story I wrote from a travel journalism association, then won a first prize a year later.

Twenty years after the music biz gig in New York, here we are. I just spent a year living in Mexico with my family and we’ll return there for two years next summer. This year I’ll travel to four countries in Eastern Europe on my own, then go to three countries in Southeast Asia in July with my family. Before the year is up, jaunts to Nicaragua, Boliva, Colombia, and Chile, and speaking at TBEX in Colorado. I’m living in Tampa, FL, creating new memories in a new place.

When you look back at your milestones 20 years from now, what will you see? Great experiences and growth, or the same ole same old and stagnation?

Just because you travel doesn’t make you a better person than one who doesn’t—or a person who truly can’t afford to do it. But at least it means you’re not sitting still. If your life is not changing and you’re not being challenged, you’re slowing down before your time.

Here’s to your next 20 years being full of exciting surprises.

  1. Ryan

    Have you or any readers been on the Beyond The Game travel trip to the Dominican Republic? Was thinking of going this May but looking for some input.Your comment

  2. jim johnston

    Wonderful, inspiring piece of writing. Thanks!

  3. Joline

    The key is to not get stuck in a rut, no matter what you do. And the higher your monthly bills are, the more stuff you have to store, the more limited your options become. You’ve invited the rut inside and let it stay.

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