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about the trip

How It Began

It was August of 2000. I had just landed in London and was looking out the window of the plane as it taxied to the gate. The anticipation and excitement that I felt at the prospect of a month spent in foreign countries was stronger than any feeling I had had recently. Even though I was focusing on the trip at hand, I knew in the back of my mind that it wouldn't be enough. I needed more time, more freedom, more destinations. Places that I might have ruled out for being too unsafe, too uncomfortable, too uninteresting were now both possible and desirable. Every place has its own charm and character (well, except Detroit). By the end of my month abroad, I knew I needed more, but I couldn't quite put my finger on the what and the how.

I had been working at the same software job for almost six years. It wasn't an unpleasant job in any way, but six years of doing anything will make someone restless. It was my first job out of college, and I hadn't had any extended time off since I started. I was twenty-seven years old, and I knew that I was a hair's breadth away from reaching the point in my life where responsibilities would tie me down forever. I wasn't opposed to a settled life in principle, but I wanted to be sure that I had gotten the wanderlust out of my system first. Travel seemed like a good vehicle.

Back home again, I started to research every aspect of long-term travel. What might have seemed daunting before became doable, once I could see how others were doing it. After a few months of research, I realized that what I wanted to do was an extended, round-the-world trip. It took well over a year before I was ready and able to go. Not only do you have to make plans for money, storing your stuff, dealing with bills, etc., but you also have to make the conscious decision to leave your life behind. It's a gamble -- is it worth giving up all the good things I have now, all the things I've worked hard for, just to pursue a newfound dream? In the end, I realized I had no choice. It was the itch I needed to scratch.

In March of 2002, I quit my job, sold all my stuff, terminated my lease, moved out of my apartment, and flew to Portugal on a one-way ticket.

The Plan

The pre-departure plan for the trip was shaped by four simple goals:

  • Travel independently as much as possible

    By travelling independently, I won't have to make undesired compromises. Travelling independently doesn't mean travelling alone -- I'll travel with others while our interests and paths are the same, and part ways when they diverge.

  • Travel overland as much as possible

    I prefer overland travel because I think it's the best way to observe the subtle gradations of change between places. Flying disrupts the immersion that makes travel so rewarding.

  • Plan as little as possible

    By planning as little as possible, I hope to give myself the flexibility to make and change plans at will. You never know who you're going to meet on the road, and how your priorities are going to change. If I never make plans, then I won't have to break plans when a new opportunity arises.

  • Never eat at McDonalds.

    Do I really need to explain this?
All that being said, here are the specific details of the trip. A story I can tell to those who eschew vaguaries. The five regions I'd most like to visit are Europe, Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia/New Zealand. I'll spend the first few months touring Europe by rail and bus, beginning in Lisbon, Portugal. After that, I'll move on to the next region. (Not sure what that'll be, but I'm leaning towards West Africa.)

Why start in Lisbon? Since the trip begins in March, the weather in Europe will be most pleasant in the south. And since the Iberian Peninsula is relatively isolated from the rest of the continent, starting there means I won't have to double back.

I'm expecting the whole journey to take roughly two years, plus or minus a few. In keeping with the spirit of the whole endeavour, I have no plans for what comes afterward -- maybe I'll return to my old life in San Diego, maybe I'll marry some Russian peasant girl and raise goats in the Caucasus Mountains.

Copyright © 2002-2010 Brian Riggs All rights reserved.
Questions or comments? Email me at dispatches at modwest dot com.