On the Good Fortune of Global Travel

Baiyoke Tower Bangkok

A few weeks ago, over coffee and sandwiches at L. George’s Coney Island Restaurant in Walled Lake, MI, my grandmother asked if I’d ever imagined myself traveling the world. As far as I know she’s never left the United States, and on that side of the family there’s a precedent for staying and certainly living close to home. I’m the only one who for the most part hasn’t, and I’m the only writer in the family, which makes me nothing more than different.

It was easy answering her question: No, I never envisioned this–never.

When I left Michigan on a whim almost 20 years ago to attend college in Tennessee, I didn’t know that I was moving away for good, or that after I finished college I’d move to New York and live there for more than a decade. When I moved to New York the month after 9/11, armed with little more than a music business degree and binder full of clips from my college newspaper and a weekly Nashville entertainment rag, I had no clue that a part-time internship at hip PAPER Magazine would lead to an ed assistant job at IgoUgo, where “real people shared travel experiences.”

When I took that low-paid job, I was unaware that the bosses would soon introduce a life-changing perk wherein every quarter employees were given $500 and an extra vacation day to help fund a trip and write about it for the site. I used that perk to travel to and write about Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vancouver, others. I didn’t grow up dreaming about any of these places, but during my four-whatever years there something clicked. Life moved in a clearer direction; the world opened up and I wanted to see more of it. (Of course, meeting my future wife at IgoUgo was the best perk of all.)

Fast forward a few years and I’m living in Bangkok of all places for about a year, working remotely as travel editor for About.com, managing a group of 60+ travel writers based around the world, and freelancing a little on the side.

Uh, what?

Erawan Shrine Bangkok

In a few more years I signed on as a contributor to the Perceptive Travel Blog, and in a few more decided to give full-time freelancing a go and moved, “permanently,” to Singapore of all places, in part to be closer to Bangkok. I’m writing this from London, where by the time I leave in a few months I’ll have spent five of the last 10 months, with more extended stays on the horizon if all goes as planned. Once again: uh, what?

No, Grandma, I never saw myself traveling like I’ve been fortunate to travel. Never thought I’d see all good soldiers do the Nanjing Shuffle in Shanghai or go to Tiananmen Square for the corpse and stay for the shopping. Never knew I’d learn about South Africa’s repenting warthogs on safari with a guy who patrolled Soweto in the ’70s, or face The Thing That Should Not Be in Bangkok.

Nanjing Road Shanghai

I didn’t think I’d take the 10:55 express from Galle, or walk through Kandy’s British Garrison Cemetery, or watch Santa Claus pack a blowtorch in Copenhagen. That I’d know what it’s like on a typical day in Munnar, India, that I’d (kind of) figure out how to ski in Hokkaido a few days after running the Tokyo Marathon, or that I’d one day see how to cross the Thailand-Laos border via the Friendship Bridge.

Some writers will tell you they’ve gotten to where they are solely based on elbow grease and shrewd life decisions. That’s part of it–that’s of course part of it–but I’m hear to tell you that’s boolshit. There’s a whole helluva lot of luck involved, too, whether one cares to admit it or not. And like any other writer managing to make something resembling a career out of it, (knock on wood) a fair share of luck has certainly helped get me here today.

London Regent's Canal

Sure, we help create our own luck. We make decisions that lead us down a certain path, and further along that path we make more decisions that take us even further, and so on–see above partial life story for proof. Whether you’re flipping words or flipping burgers for a living, you have to put the work in. But it’d be disingenuous to pat myself on the back for the good travel and writing fortune (knocking on wood even louder now) I’ve experienced thus far in life.

Luck, in fact, was the subject of my trial blog post for this site, published on February 19, 2010. You see, once upon a time I won Lonely Planet’s $10,000 dream vacations sweepstakes, and as luck would further have it, at the time of my sweepstakes entry I referred a few friends, which made me eligible for an extra $1,000 in spending money if my entry somehow won. Well, fuck-a-doodle-do it did win, and 11,000 tax-free dollars later my then-girlfriend and I were back from Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and South Africa.

(Oh, another lucky thing: I wrote an honest review on TripAdvisor of an overpriced Cape Town hotel paid for with the sweepstakes money, after which the hotel operator randomly contacted me and offered a full refund. I spent that refund money on a trip to Copenhagen a few months later.)

If you’ve been paying attention you know I used some of that dream vacation trip as fodder for this site, and also parlayed it into a few modest assignments for Lonely Planet. After, I added “has written for Lonely Planet” to my professional bio blurb, which helped me land slightly bigger assignments, which led to… you get the drift.

No, Grandma, I never pictured myself traveling the world like this, but I’ve been lucky. Really lucky.

Knock on wood.

On that note, I’ve had the good fortune to share the Perceptive Travel Blog stage for more than six years with a talented group of writers, some of whom continue to contribute, and some of whom do not. Today I’m joining the latter, as this, my 278th post (!), is my last. Similar to what Alison Stein said in her sign-off more than two years ago, I have hazy kernels of new, festering dreams that need attention–with luck, I’ll make some of them happen.

brianbspencer.com

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