Feeling a bit hung over and perturbed about a brunette the night before, I was in my underwear (boxer briefs if you want the visual) while reviewing my life list. Every Sunday I review all of my ongoing tasks and re-prioritize them to prepare for the week ahead.
I got to my list of bucket list items I plan to complete in 2011 and asked my normal question “What action can I do right now to move forward on this list?”
- Write a book
- Learn to do a standing backflip
- Climb Mt. Rainier
- Go to Antarctica
- Go to South America
- Get a six pack
- Learn another language class (become bilingual)
- Learn an instrument
- See the Head Statues on Easter Island (Chile)
- See Machu Picchu (Peru)
- See the Iguazu Falls (Argentina)
- Buy a plane ticket to a foreign country (day of)
- Run a marathon
- Go on Biplane Thrill Rides (Los Angeles)
- Go Hunting
- Go to Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Go to Belize City, Belize
- Go to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Most of these items require longer term planning and being hung over, I didn’t want to start any major new projects. I got to ‘Buy a plane ticket to a foreign country (day of)’ and smiled. It was raining outside (Screw you California, this is why I left Seattle!) and decided I was going to go somewhere sunny. I jumped on Kayak.com and looked up tickets to Belize. Now I should note, I picked Belize because I will be living in Argentina in about 2 weeks and I already have plans for the other location based items on my 2011 list. I figured with this country, I could check off three bucket list items at once (Buy foreign ticket day of, go to South America and go to Belize City.)
I bought the cheapest ticket I could find and booked the first reasonably priced hotel room I saw. That was that.
A few hours later my roommate, Erik, woke up (it was 1:00 pm) and I told him I needed a ride to LAX because I was going to Belize. “Are you serious?”, he asked me with morning voice, “Damn it Danny, I hate you. Yes I will drive you but you are paying for gas”. Soon afterward, my other roommate, Ian, stumbled in and asked what we were going to do that night. Erik said we were going to a BBQ and dropping me off at the airport. Ian looked at me and asked where I was going. “Belize”, I responded. “Where is that?”, he mumbled obviously amused. “I think it is South America somewhere. It has really nice beaches”. I checked Google maps and it turns out it is in Central America directly south of Mexico and East of Guatemala. Central America != South America. Bucket list item fail.
The Wrong Way To Prepare For International Travel
Later that night we went to a BBQ in Laguna Beach at a ridiculously hot Brazilian girls house. We had a great time and the girls made some fantastic steaks and drinks. They told us all about Argentina and Brazil and made me even more excited about my forth coming home.
As we left the party, we had some trouble finding Erik’s car.
Some neighbor shouted at us, “Hey Bros, are you looking for your car?”
We were standing in a parking lot looking around. The situation was pretty self explanatory.
“Yeah dudes, your car got towed like 2 minutes ago. You shouldn’t have let them do that.” the brotastic bro shouted drunkenly.
Instantly Ian ran away.
Not phased, Erik asked which neighbor had towed it and went straight to that apartment to investigate.
I stood there trying to figure out contingency plans. My passport was in my suitcase in the car.
Erik wasn’t able to get any other information out of the guy who had towed us and I had come up with a very weak plan that involved finding a State Department office in either LAX or Houston. (I had my drivers license so I could still make my domestic transfers) Right then, Ian called and he had stopped the tow truck driver by banging on his door until he pulled over. Ian is one hell of a resource. He has a magic ability to make unlikely events happen.
We got the car back and I made it to LAX just in time to catch my flight. Another typical Sunday night.
7 hours later, I arrived in Belize. Belize is a small country in Central America. Most people speak English and the currency is the Belizean dollar which is roughly 2 to 1 USD. This means if they say dinner and drinks is 20 dollars and you hand them 20 dollars US, they hand you back 10 Belizean dollars. This happened to me multiple times and it was awesome :-) The country doesn’t require a visa from US citizens and everything is relatively inexpensive. For these reasons, it is an easy travel destination.
I checked into the Radisson hotel in Belize City, did some work for my new job (blog post to come) and studied some Spanish before heading out and exploring the city. Belize City is full of old colonial architecture with a unique twist of Latin flair. Most of the buildings have not been maintained and the poverty is readily apparent. Put frankly, the city feels relatively unsafe. Fortunately, all of these down sides are easily made up for by the beaches that I found later.
I found a local restaurant for dinner, ordered ‘spicy belizean chicken’ and my normal rum and coke. In Latin countries, Coke is still usually made with real sugar cane rather than high-fructose corn syrup. This makes it extra delicious. Top this with the fact, that the rum was locally made (1 Barrel) and it made for my new favorite drink in the world. It was ridiculously delicious.
Eventually a woman sat down at the bar near me and I struck up conversation. It turned out her name was Laura and she was from the States. She explained to me, with a sexy southern accent, that she was the Dean of Education at a major university (you have heard of it) and was working in Belize helping teach their teachers how to teach. (And I thought my job was meta!)
We ended up talking for a while and going to a local casino. It was bar-none one of the sketchiest place I have ever been. We both had a good time but between the drive there, the screening process to get into the casino, the casino itself, and drive back back, I was convinced I was going to die. Not fun roller coaster, “omg, I am so scared”, it was more like airplane with a fuel leak, “holy Fing crap, I am not going to have an open casket funeral”.
I have no idea what time we got back but for many reasons I didn’t get much sleep that night.
I woke up the next morning to my hotel phone ringing. It was Laura and she wanted to know if I wanted to go to the local zoo with her friend, Lauren, an ornithologist (A biologist with an emphasis on birds). Happy with the randomness of the situation, I said yes.
We met in the lobby and Laura introduced us. Lauren also worked at the university but gave off a vibe much more like a nurse than a published professor. (Intelligent but with an emphasis on caring rather than on knowledge points) Before heading to the zoo we ran some errands.
It was a crazy morning! First, we picked up a friend of Lauren’s named Noel. He was a teacher at a local elementary school. He was a huge but soft spoken man. He smiled constantly and seemed interested in absolutely everything. He had to pick up “some chicken” so we dropped him off at a local grocery store.
He came back with 50 pounds of chicken (for the school’s communal lunch) and a scantily clad and very attractive Belizean woman who was holding her 2 year old son. We all squeezed into the car and did our best to drive.
Besides getting rear-ended, being forced to drive on a sidewalk after being stopped by a bus and being cut off by a horse, it was just like driving at home. We grabbed a quick breakfast, dropped everyone off and Lauren and I proceeded to the zoo.
If you ever want to feel way out of your league, try taking a biologist to a zoo. Lauren knew everything about everything. The zoo was filled with rescued and endangered animals and was fantastic. We saw snakes, tigers, monkeys and a jaguar. I had a flight to catch so we left after a couple hours but both Lauren and I had a great time.
Toward the end of our zoo exploration, Lauren asked me what brought me to Belize. I explained my bucket list and SEO and she gave me one of the most common responses I hear. “I could never do that. It must be so nice to be young and able to travel”. Lauren is in her thirties and was just returning from a trip in Costa Rica.
When we got back to the city, I found out that Laura had gone out of her way and booked me a flight to a local island so I could go to the beaches I had come to see. I hopped in a tiny Cessna and flew to San Pedro.
If you come to Belize, you want to go to San Pedro, not Belize City. The people I met in the city made it fun but frankly the city itself was not that great. When I was in California, I had booked the flight to the only city I had heard of in the country. (This was actually the second time I have made this mistake. I made the same mistake with Auckland in New Zealand). Flying over San Pedro, I realized Laura was absolutely right. This is where I had meant to go.
I have been to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world (Mexico, Greek Islands, New Zealand and Hawaii) but without question, the beaches in Belize are the best. They are clean, shallow, warm, public and breathtaking. I will never go to Cancun again, from here on out it is Belize every time.
The first person I met on the small island was a bartender named Monica. She was of Mayan and Asian descent and talked like a whip.
We made small talk and I told her about my bucket list. She was a 21 year old bartender and responded, “it must be nice to be old enough to travel and have a job as flexible as yours.” I laughed. She was a bartender.
After exploring the beaches for a few more hours, I found a picture perfect group of palm trees and took a long nap. Eventually, I was woken up by a man selling ice cream for $50 Belizean cents a scoop. Honestly, I couldn’t even imagine a better series of events.
I flew back to Belize City and met up with Lauren and Laura. On their suggestion we met up with another one of their professor friends and all of us went out for ice cream. (If you only learn one thing about me, it should be that I LOVE ice cream.)
That night, we all talked about the days events while sipping on some local rum and wine. Laura was having a dinner thrown for her by the Prime Minister of Belize for the work in education she had done and she invited me to join as her guest. (Yes, seriously.) Impressed and tempted to meet the Belizean upper class, I eventually decided to stick to my original plan and leave the following day. I had another bucket list item to complete that required me to be in LA. (Learning to fly a plane!)
The next morning I slept in and got a ride to the airport. The airport only has one restaurant/bar and according to the plaques on it’s walls, it is consistently voted the best airport bar by the Travel Channel.
As I sat in the tiny bar, I struck up conversation with the girl sitting next to me.
Again, I explained the bucket list. This time it turned out she was exactly my age and also worked online. Unfortunately, she responded “It must be nice to be a boy.”
When Excuses Are Not an Excuse
Flying back to the States I spent most of the trip thinking about how I had got to this point in my life. Why was my lifestyle so different from all of my friends and colleagues.
The most obvious answer is money. Frankly, I don’t think that explains it. I grew up poorer than most of my friends and I didn’t really have any extra cash until after I dropped out of college. This entire trip cost me $762.84 which is within the vacation range of most Americans.
I think the real answer has more to do with lifestyle and priorities. When telling the various people I met on this trip my story, they all made indirect comments about why they couldn’t do what I was doing. “It must be nice to be so young” the women in their thirties said. The 21 girl said “It must be nice to be old enough to travel”. The girl who was my age said “It must be nice to be a boy”.
These excuses are not wrong but they are still excuses.
Yes, these are factors that make traveling hard but they are not nearly as hard to overcome as most people think.
Yes, it is easy to travel when you are in your twenties but that doesn’t mean it is easier. I have less funds and less experience than most of the people I met on this trip.
Yes, being male does have its advantages when traveling abroad but gender doesn’t completely prevent women from traveling if they do so in groups or with trusted companions.
In fact, the tourist industry thrives on older travelers (they spend more) and women (who on average spend much more while traveling than men).
Reading my story and saying that it could never be you is like seeing a trained pilot and saying that you could never do that.
You need to build up to it. In the same way you don’t start day one being a pilot of a 767, you don’t start improving your life by flying to a foreign country day of. Instead, you need to make small attainable goals. Maybe you can’t fly to Central America today, but I bet you could travel to a neighboring country sometime this year.
I fell into my current lifestyle by making travel a priority and by continually pushing my comfort zone. It has not been easy but as you can see by stories like this one, it is worth it and is much more attainable than most people think.
Excuses exist because they keep us safe. They are generally based on real and worthwhile concerns but like many safety mechanisms they do have one flaw. When overused, they can also prevent you from living life.
I challenge you to make it a priority to listen for all of the excuses you hear from your co-workers, friends and family today. They will likely be abundant.
Then remember, is much easier to see flaws in others than it is to see flaws in yourself.
After noting this bad habit in others, think about how your own usage of excuses may be holding you back from living the life you read and dream about.
You have all of the potential in the world, the only thing holding you back is the excuses you have for not being more.
[Please note, I changed most of the names in this story to protect the innocent. The story is completely true, the names are not.]
Cost break down in US dollars:
Plane ticket: $470.00