The most romanticized version of the concept is the American idea of the Australian “Walkabout”. The most organized effort may be how the Mormon community sends their boys out to explore the world and spread their message. At fancy New England boarding schools they’ll call it a “Gap Year”. Sometimes it’s just “Taking a Damn Break”. For James and me, it’s the “GDT” or Global Discovery Tour.
The GDT came to life, as most good ideas do, around 2am. I had an overnight layover in Atlanta and we were about 6 hours in to a conversation about nothing when it started to turn into something. Stories about the things we’d done turned to questions about what we do next. And “what’s next” is a loaded question in the middle of a pandemic.
The idea for the next adventure rarely starts with what actually happens. Adventures evolve and escalate. They bounce off of, and run over boundaries. And sometimes just straight up break some rules.
You start off with a somewhat reasonable and achievable idea and expand from there.
“Let’s go see a show at Red Rocks.”
“Excellent! We should road trip out there.”
“Dude – we should fix up your piece of shit RV and drive it out!”
“We could load some kayaks on top and paddle some rivers on the way.”
“We could go back to the Rio Grande and drive it in to Mexico.” “Yeah, but I don’t actually have a title to it.”
“What? We drove that thing like 1000 miles last year.”
“Yeah, it didn’t have license plates. – I just brought a copy of the Bill of Sale the guy and I wrote up.”
“Shit… OK… How about going to 5 or 6 Widespread Panic shows and paddling a different river between each one?”
“Perfect! When do they play Red Rocks?”
“Shit… I can’t leave for that long in the summer.”
“There’s a really cool music festival in Key West on New Years”
“Perfect. I’ll pick you up in Atlanta the day after Christmas and we’ll drive the RV around Florida paddling and surfing for like a month.”
“Nice! But I’ll fly to Virginia so we can start off the trip together. I don’t want to miss the part where the RV breaks down.”
And Boom! An adventure is born.
Most of these ideas don’t make it past this stage. It’s like throwing raw spaghetti at the wall – you gotta let it simmer for a while to get it to stick. But the GDT was different. It had some heat on it right away. This was an idea born from a unique set of circumstances.
James and I met in 2nd grade at Sea Pines Academy. We were the 2 new kids in a class of about 23. He had just moved to Hilton Head from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee and my family and I were fresh off the plane from Bahrain and moving back to the US for the first time in my short life. I was like New Kid 2.0 – a nerdy blonde kid from a place NOBODY could find on a map. I don’t know how we met. We weren’t shunned at the lunch table, and James never saved me from getting beat up. There’s no funny origin story. Just an origin situation from which a 40 year friendship grew.
(At this point I'll note that those of you who know us both are probably wondering "Who the heck is "James?" A few years ago Jason switched to using his given name of James. Due to 40 years of habit, I still ignore this decision in person and in conversation. However, he's asked me to use "James" in these blog posts and I'll respect that - hence the stories about a guy you've never heard me talk about.)
In early 2021 James was living in Atlanta (his home since college) and I was almost 2 years in to life on Kauai after a couple of decades on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. James was thinking about finally moving out of the city and trying out life in the Rockies or… who knows? Maybe Europe or Central America, or Idaho? Just somewhere that’s not Atlanta. I was discovering that while I’m more than happy to work hard and be part of a team, that I am probably not the best “employee”. After 20+ years of working for myself, I’m apparently a little too impatient, impulsive, and opinionated, and not quite risk-averse enough. So I’m trying to learn how to accept the rules, paperwork, and patience required when someone else is writing the paychecks. In other words, the tectonic plates on which we had built our lives were unstable and starting to shift.
As we were both approaching the back half of our 40’s, life had turned out differently than we had expected it to while we worked our way through High School and College. We were supposed to be lawyers or bankers or doctors with wonderful wives & active kids, driving minivans, maybe a BMW in the garage, living in nice houses, and taking family ski trips together every winter. Life was supposed to be a clear journey with clear goals, objectives, and rewards… and responsibilities.
Turns out neither one of us has a wife, a girlfriend, a kid, or a picket fence. Our parents are healthy. Our siblings are doing great. And all of our friends are living great lives. All of those responsibilities that we expected to have by now just don’t exist. We found a unique window in life when nobody really needs us for anything. We can literally do any damn thing we want. Now THAT’S a responsibility. Think about it. What would you do if you could do anything you want? Not without costs. Not without consequences. In the real world. With what you have now. From your current situation. Starting today. Maybe you’re already doing it.
But if not, ask yourself why.
Be honest. Is it too hard? Is it too scary? Is what you think you want not actually what you want?
Not so easy, is it? All this self-reflection and questioning the status quo stuff sounds great on a podcast (or written in some idiot’s blog), but “What do I REALLY want?” is a tough question to ask. There are so many seemingly easy, obvious answers – but most of them fall apart after a little more reflection. Nobody really wants to only eat chocolate ice cream for the rest of their lives.
Life is a balancing act in so many ways. We tip the scales with every decision we make. Do I want to have kids? Do I want to marry this person? Do I want to take this job? Do I want to follow the same route to work today that I’ve taken every day for the last 7 years? Hundreds of decisions a day. Some big. Some small. Very few inconsequential.
I think my sister absolutely LOVES being a Mom. And I know that a big part of her would also like to take a 9 month hiking trip across Canada, or work for a non-profit providing medical care in Africa or South America. But given her current reality, what she REALLY wants is to provide the best life she can for her girls and to have as much fun as possible doing so with her super cool husband. Tip. Tip. Tip… and suddenly your priorities are different. What you really want is different. These questions are ones we need to keep asking ourselves as we evolve.
So, James and I were running around in circles through all of this philosophical muck and mess that night as the bottles got empty and the late hours started moving toward early, & we decided to just tip the scales over. No more hedging bets. No more long term thinking. Let’s look at a time frame we can actually think about. And use that time to continue asking the big questions about how we each want to spend the next 40+ years. Start now and figure out the rest as we go. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Do something. So we decided to take a year and go see the world – or at least as much of it as we can in the next year (which is NOT as much as you think).
It’s not a particularly unique idea. Or a particularly noble one. But it seemed like a damn good one. We don’t know exactly what we want to do with our lives, or what our highest purpose might be. But we do know that we want to go see some stuff, meet some people, and experience the unexpected - and the world seems like a much better place than Atlanta to do so.
We set a budget ($100 a day plus $10k for air travel – rounded up to $50k total), and started a list of places we wanted to go and things we wanted to see. The Pyramids in Egypt. The Steppes of Mongolia. Bhutan. Australia. Antarctica. Machu Pichu. The Galapagos. Easter Island. Angor Wat. Budapest. Polar Bears. Puffins. Giraffes. Penguins. Madagascar. Bali. The list grew quickly. It was a fun thought experiment. And it could have died right then and there. But then we started putting the list onto a spreadsheet – with dates. And the year started coming together. Suddenly we could see it and comprehend it. You could almost taste the dates in Jordan and smell the Yaks in Mongolia. Holy shit! We were going to do this thing.
We spent most of the night talking through places to go, things to do, and how to do them. And then it was time to head to the airport so I could fly back home to Kauai.
As I got off my first flight at LAX, my phone pinged – “Hey man, I’m going to list my apartment in September so that I can close in time for us to leave on New Years.”
Holy shit. We’re going to do this thing!
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