Sincere Ignorance

As we approach the last few days of our European backpacking trip….

I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, but I do know how I want to live it. I met so many others from around the world, who also don’t have a set direction in their life. The difference is, instead of fighting it, they embrace it. I don’t think I will realize the true impact that this trip has had on me, until I get back home. It might take months…even years.

But I do have a feeling about what might have changed. I want to be ignorant, because choosing to do new things and embracing your ignorance is how we ultimately expand our breadth of knowledge.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

Before this trip I would’ve read this quote and thought….”I agree, people shouldn’t be ignorant, nor should they be stupid. If we as humans fail to at least strive for competence, it would be a danger to our culture and society”.

But now I interpret this quote in a completely different way. Embracing our ignorance would be the greatest threat to the status quo. The status quo is competence. Competence is comfort, and is what keeps us from exploring, from taking risk, and from pursuing something greater. Ignorance forces you to think differently and innovate because you have no clue what the status quo is. Every new city and culture was something that we were sincerely ignorant to. After a few days we became competent, and then it was time to move on.

Religion all over the world

Prepare yourself….this could get thick.

There are a few things that Lyon is famous for…..churches and restaurants. You cannot walk one city block without seeing at least a few of each. I thought it was very surprising that so many Catholic churches were built on top of one of the largest Roman-Gallic cities that ever existed. Even though these two civilizations, one preceding the other, had two very different views of religion, it all comes down to man’s search for meaning.

Unlike animals, we have developed a sense of self awareness; a curiosity with our surroundings. We ask “Why?” and “How?”, which often leads to even more questions. With all kinds of knowledge, eventually we reach a precipice of what we know, and what we don’t know. Then it becomes a leap of faith.

There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of religions. Their temples can range from the Vatican, to a small cave up in the mountains of Nepal. Though seemingly separate, these varying religions often ask the same questions and teach the same answers. Live a virtuous life, treat your neighbor how you would like to be treated, and love yourself and others. Morals aside, religion also helps to answer the burning question of what will happen after we die. This is something that science cannot, and maybe will never be able to answer. This question pervades to the core of every religion. It can keep people up at night in a cold sweat, or be a comforting thought to someone, depending on where they are in their life.

But how far is too far? What questions should be answered in black and white, and which should be left open for an honest discussion. Unfortunately, this one question of our mortality separates one religion from the other, and leads to one group of people condemning another. It also leads to an end of discussion. People are afraid to talk to one another about the subject because of a fear that they might offend someone. Our judgement becomes clouded as we get more pompous in a thought process that we’re right and they’re wrong.

Disclaimer…..
Before I get too far into this, I can’t say I would identify myself with any sort of religion. I like to remain open to all beliefs because I think at the core, they all ask the same questions. Nothing is right or wrong, and it’s just human to hold onto a theory for an unanswered question.

Back to what I was saying…
When did it become taboo to say “I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out” as an answer to religion. Our history is littered with one religious faith persecuting another. Everyone has at one time or another been approached by those of a different religious belief, attempting to convert them. How does one “convert” to a living, evolving, belief system that is a religion? Do we have to convert every few months? Just look at the evolution of religions from thousands of years ago to today. So many have completely changed, and continue to change. Some die off and some are created out of nowhere.

Whenever we get to a new city and look up the main sites, they always end up including at least one symbol of a religious faith. Whether its Catholicism, Muslim, Paganism, or Jewish, they are always beautiful and awe inspiring. People invest so much effort, time, and money trying to answer one of life’s greatest questions. Who am I to say someone is right and others are wrong? I believe religion plays a huge role in civilized society. They generally teach good moral behavior and bring many strangers together under one roof. At the same time I believe we owe it to ourselves as humans to respect one another’s beliefs and not let it separate us from one another. So appreciate the question, acknowledge the various answers, and take in the simple beauty of religion that exists all over the world.

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Why Expectations Suck

Even when we first started planning out trip, Barcelona was the jewel in our eye. Every fellow backpacker that we crossed paths with gushed about the beauty of Barcelona. The sun, beaches, girls, and the atmosphere was what everyone raved about. We couldn’t wait to get there. It was going to be like a vacation within a vacation. When things got tough, we would just shrug and say “Wait til’ Barcelona”. Our whole trip was overhauled to accommodate Barcelona. To say that our expectations for this city had reached the stratosphere would be an understatement.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that expectations….suck. Barcelona was not some heavenly entity like we had anticipated. It was a city, a big city, with a beach. The Sagrada Familia was interesting to look at, and the same can be said about most of Gaudi’s work situated throughout the city. It was nice but did not move me or change my life. The beaches are good, the water warm, the cigarette butts plentiful, and the homeless men innovative (selling beer that they bought from the grocery store).

Beaches and art aside, our hostel proved underwhelming as well. Yes, it was a few minute walk to the beach, but for half our stay we did not have any roommates. We were in an 8 bed dorm room with just us, and could tell that we were losing our minds from the isolation. In fact, the entire hostel was mostly devoid of anyone. We ate breakfast alone, met a few guys from Denmark who left shortly after, and nobody seemed to want to meet anyone new. We even washed our clothes in an effort to smell better, just in case.

But back to the lesson….expectations suck.

I don’t mean to trash on Barcelona…it is a beautiful city, with interesting food, culture, and I love the siestas from 2pm-4pm. It’s just that it did not meet our lofty expectations, and to be fair, I don’t see how it ever could have.

The best times we have had on this journey was when we had no expectations. We decided on going to Berlin, while eating breakfast in Amsterdam a few days beforehand. We had no time for expectations and had just heard that Berlin is unique and it fit into our route. It turned out to be one of the best stops we made, as we met some great people and had some crazy experiences that I will never forget.

Salzburg proved to be another amazing city with no expectations going in. The only reason we went to Salzburg was because we had just booked a flight from Lyon to Barcelona and it was on the way. We had also grown tired of the big cities and needed something different. So of course, Salzburg completely surprised us with its amazing fortress, food, and tranquility.

So for now on, I plan on doing my best to get rid of expectations in my life and for the rest of this trip. Having expectations has never added value to my life. If something meets my expectations…great, but I expected it. If it fails to meet my expectations, then I’m mad, unhappy, and unfulfilled. There is, and never will be, a happy ending.

So give to others because you enjoy how it lights up their face. Be charitable because it makes you feel good, and not because you expect your life to be showered in good karma. Love your family, your friends, and your significant other. Not with the expectation of something in return, but simply because it feels good. Lets enjoy each moment, free from the disappointment, free from the pressure, free from the expectations. In the end, life is just too short to be underwhelmed by anything.

Drawbacks of Leadership

Before this trip, I thought I knew what leadership was. It was something that I embraced as a skill. I thought I had an advantage over a lot of my peers because I was not afraid to take charge. I never knew the drawback to leadership.

Don’t get me wrong, leadership is a great thing when properly controlled. It can inspire action and influence a lot of people. But it can very easily spiral out of control and consume you. Once it starts to slip out of your grasp, it can lead to micro-managing, anxiety, and and even insomnia.

I thought this would be a care free trip, just living out of my backpack. What could there be to worry about when your agenda is completely open to anything and everything?

But then it became useful to think 1 or 2 steps ahead. It helped in avoiding a lot of dumb mistakes that we initially made. It’s an empowering feeling when your mind is on top of things and everything works just like you had anticipated.

Once that started happening then heck, why not strive for perfection and think 3 or 4 steps ahead? What hostel can we book for next week? What time is the train….how many connections…..do we need a reservation….would an overnight train be worth it….will we need a cab, or can we walk to the new hostel from the train station….what time can we check in….what can we do in the city while we wait to check in……crap, what currency is this country in…does this hostel take credit cards….what language do they speak….where did I put my passport….how much money do I have left…..is this trip truly worth it?

As you can see, this can get out of control pretty quickly. I have seen myself slipping into this habit more and more lately. Especially right now, as every step for flying from Lyon to Barcelona is running through my mind. We have to wake up in about three hours to take a cab to the RhoneExpress transit which promises to get us to the Lyon airport in under an hour, for a 7am flight.

For some reason this is keeping me from sleeping, even though Nick and I have ran into plenty of adversity before and have always made it work. No matter what has happened, it has always worked out somehow, someway. But the more responsibility I try to shoulder with planning and execution, the more I subconsciously try to strive for perfection. Trying to always be in control is mentally taxing, lonely, and I think I’m finally realizing it just isn’t sustainable.

I think it comes down to allowing others to lead and take some of the burden. True leaders are talented at delegating leadership responsibilities. Without this developed skill, the person trying to lead will be overwhelmed, and those that are following will lose faith. Inspire others to lead, because nobody can do it alone.

Why 3D Printing Will Save Travel

As I sit here drinking my fourth cup of free coffee in Lyon, France, I’m thinking why people love to travel. They love to experience the local culture. They love to learn about different ways of life and philosophies. Yet for some reason, when lots of tourists discover an unspoiled travel destination, we immediately begin to transition it to become more uniform. We have a love/hate relationship with uniformity. Its boring and uneventful because you know exactly what to expect, and we like this because it’s easy and cheap.

If you find a beautiful island, full of cultured people living a unique life…you would come back to your home, and tell all your friends. Before long developers see the financial potential of this island and begin to build uniform places to stay because that gives them the highest profit margins. These uniform hotels reflect nothing of the local culture because they’re being built by people with huge pocket books from the same countries as the tourists. This happens because it takes a huge initial investment of resources to build infrastructure. So the more we tourists travel, the more we spoil the experience of travel. Its quite the paradox.

But what if it didn’t have to be like this? This requires a definite stretch of the imagination as the technology is still in its infancy, but 3D printers could save travel. For those who aren’t familiar with what I’m talking about, imagine a hot glue gun with plastic or metal instead of glue. It is connected to a computer and extrudes the material to form pretty much any kind of object you can draw up. Just like a regular computer printer but in three dimensions, and it has nothing to do with paper.

Imagine if you could take the power of development and manufacturing, and place it in the hands of the local people. Since with 3D printers, there are no cost advantages of uniformity, these local people are free to create under the influence incubated for years by their own culture. Then, when us travelers from different nations visit, everything we touch, use, and experience has been created with the local culture in mind. It will be vastly unique, and so refreshingly different than our native country.

I know it sounds too good to be true but it really is possible. With the aid of 3D printing, local businesses can compete with large manufacturing companies. Normally it requires a huge sum of money to create a product to sell. It requires a factory, molds, shipping, and is most profitable when mass produced. Instead, with a 3D printer, a local person can print a few products and sell them in as many varieties desired. As more get sold, more can be produced. Again, there is no additional cost benefit for mass production or uniformity.

If you get to the root of this post, it all comes down to fighting for the little guy. I don’t like seeing McDonalds on every street corner, or neon Nikes being worn by every single kid while I’m traveling. These companies produce so much of their product that they are forced to heavily advertise to meet their razor thin profit margins. The worst part is that they use bush-league tactics to make us feel inadequate if we don’t buy what they’re selling.

But I strongly believe the tide is changing. It becomes more apparent everyday that I will try to hash out a career in this industry, and there are already so many amazing people working on making 3D printing a reality. It will give the power back to the little guys in the business world, save the environment from our current methods of wasteful manufacturing, and save us from the evil plague that is uniformity.

The Grass is Always Greener

It’s always the same four questions. “How long have you been in town?” “Where are you going next?” “Where have you been?” and finally “How long are you traveling?”.

Even though it’s about the easiest conversation starter I’ve ever had in my repertoire, it gets old pretty fast as we meet new backpackers in hostels every single day. No matter how tired you are, if new people are rooming with you, it’s virtually impossible to not at least ask those four questions to each other.

Recently I’ve been trying to get a little creative with these follow up questions just to make it more interesting (without being creepy). Things like “Why are you backpacking through Europe?”, “Would you ever want to live over here in Europe (or America if they’re European)?”, “What do you hate the most about backpacking”?. It sure makes the conversation less robotic and in the very least gets a few laughs.

One thing that has surprised me is that it seems like so many Europeans want to live in America, and a lot of Americans would kill to live in Europe.

Why Americans want to live in Europe:
1) It’s easy and cheap to travel to new countries
2) More culture and history
3) European employees start with a base vacation of 4 to 5 weeks annually
4) It’s different than living in America

Why Europeans want to live in America:
1) The people are so nice (I’ve heard this time and time again)
2) More jobs for new graduates
3) The lure of the “American Dream” is still alive
4) It’s different than living in Europe

As for my own opinion, I wouldn’t mind living overseas. But the more I travel, the more people I meet, the more I realize that the grass is always greener on the other side. In no way could I live overseas for an extended period of time. I would just miss my own family, country, and culture too much. That becomes more and more apparent the longer I’m away. I honestly will never understand the fascination with cricket, tight rolled up pants, and the shaved sides combover haircut (Macklemore style) over here.

Everyone thinks that the other countries have it all figured out, and that those people live in paradise. In almost every single case that has been proven false.
The Australians are all forced to live with their parents until their mid to late twenties because its so expensive. The young Scottish are moving away in droves due to a poor economy. In France, Czech Republic, and Austria, there are so few jobs for new graduates that they are quickly becoming a lost generation, and we all know that in America our infrastructure is crumbling, debt is through the roof, and our political system could be improved (I’m being polite).

I can’t stress this enough (to myself as well); everyone who lives on beautiful beaches or up in amazing mountain ranges grow weary of them. They long for a bigger city, or the countryside, or just somewhere vastly different. The grass is always greener.

The lesson that can be learned from this is to appreciate what you have. I can’t wait to get in my car and drive somewhere when I get home. I look forward to getting back into a comfortable routine and catching up with all of my family and friends. This whole experience makes me want to go see what’s in my own backyard. I’m seeing countries all over Europe, but I’ve realized that I’ve barely scratched the surface of exploring Ohio and the Midwest.

I’ve never really taken a day trip to explore Amish country, when in reality, that would be just as alien to me as anywhere in Europe. It all comes down to waking up in the morning and truly opening your eyes to the natural beauty that you’re surrounded with, wherever you are in the world.

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A long way from Cleveland

Ohhhhhh…so this is why we travel!

Its amazing how you can be feeling rundown and plagued with lower back pain, and all of a sudden realize why we travel. We lived on the edge yesterday with canyon jumping and mountain biking and were really paying for it today.

Randomly we bought a train ticket to Murren, Switzerland to get a great view of the alps, and that is exactly what we got. Nothing I can write can do this view justice. I don’t want to waste too much time looking at this ipad screen and not at the glaciers and mountains surrounding me, so I’ll end this post with that! Enjoy!

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A Dose of Reality

Did I mention that we were extremely unprepared for this trip? Even the thought of me being bothered by the fact that we had to book hostels about three days in advance and losing out on absolute flexibility makes me laugh. Uncertainty can be quite stressful on the road. Just yesterday I was looking at train connections to get towards Barcelona in the next week and I realized that we were a good 30 hours of train travel away. That is a ridiculous amount of train time. So we’re currently undergoing a massive overhaul of our plans.

It turns out we ventured way too far east in Europe and trains don’t connect efficiently through the Alps towards Spain. You could be covering the same amount of distance that we did between Amsterdam and Berlin, but you have to travel on the sparse paths through the mountains where we would inevitably lose our minds from the insane amount of hours in a confined train seat. Train travel is definitely better than Airplanes when it comes to comfort, but you have to grab connecting trains every 30 minutes and you often find yourself running around a train platform in the middle of nowhere in the Czech Republic to jump on a different connection.

Because we’re logistically challenged, the current plan is to travel to Salzburg, Austria, then on to Interlaken, Switzerland, and finally to Lyon, France. This little plan was dreamed up entirely this morning because we didn’t realize our issues until last night. From Lyon, France we will take a 2 hour plane to Barcelona to avoid a 15 hour train ride. It’s amazing how the path that you plan out changes due to unforeseen circumstances. This whole trip has been completely tied to cause and effect relationships. We determined that we had to get to Lyon, France because it’s under 6 hours away from Interlaken, which was under 6 hours of train travel from Salzburg. It all stems back to the fact that the budget airplane, EasyJet, only flies to Barcelona from Lyon. Those damn Alpine mountains.

These are the factors that are determining where we go, where we stay, how we get there, and who we meet. If you boil it down, we have very little control over our trip. We’re trying to navigate as best we can within our limitations to see the cities that we most want to see. So what’s the lesson learned?

You cannot control every little facet of your life. It’s not about how many things go completely right or completely wrong in your life. It’s about how you respond when faced with challenges. How do you solve the issues that will inevitably come up?

You can either clam up and slow down, or you can spring into action and find a solution. In slang terms, you just gotta go with it. I’m pretty sure we’re on the right train to Linz, Austria which will then connect us to a train to Salzburg, but I’m not entirely sure. I just don’t have the energy to be completely sure about everything, all of the time. If it turns out that we’re on the wrong train, so be it. There is always a solution.

Finally, enjoy it when things go right. I’ve found that I get in such a survival mode of thinking, where I keep trying to plan the next step of what to do, that I lose sight of the fact that I’m sitting in a park, with a fantastic viewpoint overlooking Prague, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. In those times, Nick and I often tell each other, “Dude….we’re in Prague”, and just laugh.

FYI…..I’m finishing this post right now (a few days since I started it) and we just figured out that we got on the wrong train expecting to go to Interlaken Switzerland. Instead, it looks like we’ll be heading to Munich! Hahaha

Why I loved Salzburg

I never dreamed I would be riding bikes next to a crystal clear river at night in Salzburg, Austria. The only reason we even booked two nights in Salzburg was because we heard Vienna was boring and we wanted to see a smaller city. Funny thing was that it turned out to be a UNESCO world heritage site because of the massive fortress overlooking the city that was first constructed in the 11th century.

The city of Salzburg can be traveled completely by bike and was the cleanest city I’ve ever seen. It is in a valley surrounded by a few mountains with a beautiful river cutting right through the center. It is the birthplace of Mozart and largely known for their marionette shows (string puppets).

So what kind of lesson did a small city like Salzburg teach me?

Beyond a doubt, Salzburg will be the kind of city that I put my roots down in and call home. Before this little two day trip, I wasn’t sure if I’d rather live in a big city, small town, or on top of a mountain somewhere.

I now have three qualities I will look for in a place to call home.

1) A city that can be completely traveled by bike. Until you experience the feeling of being able to hop on a bike, pedal down to your destination, lock it up right next to the door, and stroll on in, you won’t understand. Hopefully U.S. cities will catch onto this trend, and make cities more bike friendly like Europe has. This also limits the size, as Salzburg was not a huge city at all.

2) A city that is closely integrated with nature. There is something about living close to nature, with all the comforts of a city that makes for a perfect concoction. Too much of either can be detrimental. In Salzburg, we only had one full day to experience the city. In the morning we rode our bikes through the city and explored the historical fortress, full of museums and fantastic viewpoints of the city. After, we happened upon a discrete archway that looked like an entrance to a park. As we meandered through, we realized it was a trail up a rather massive forested hill. A long story short, after a few hours of gruesome hiking on a heavily forested trail, we made it to the top. We walked into the building which turned out to be a Biergarten/cafe. Upon arrival, the one and only worker (and his dog) gave us a cup of water and we ordered whatever beer he recommended, in celebration of our feat. With sweat beading down our brows, a cold Austrian brew in our hand, and a view of the city/surrounding mountains, we achieved a Zen-like state of relaxation.

3) A city full of culture and intellect. By the recommendation of Pat Smith, a former “Maths” teacher from the U.K. who has been coming to Salzburg for 30 years, we attended a Marionette Opera set to symphonies by Mozart. It was definitely not something we wouldn’t regularly do as we realized it was completely in German. If I were to say I completely suppressed the urge to fall asleep for a second or two, I’d be lying. But then the play started to pick up, with the aid of a few English subtitles and a cup of coffee, our interests peaked. By the end of the opera, we were applauding with a standing ovation and greatly satisfied with the experience. It was history, culture, and a comedy all wrapped into one.

As we rode our bikes back to our hostel in the dark, surrounded by the sound of an outdoor Mozart concert, the luminescence of the fortress, and the distant mountains, we grasped the magnitude of what we were experiencing. It was a city full of Universities, culture, nature, and a general appreciation for life. It was my answer for what to look for in a future home town.