Travel

6th June
2011
written by Randy

For my minimalist weekend, I decided to try something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while: I traveled out of town without packing any luggage.

In fact, my plan was to take nothing at all, but because my new job requires me to tote a laptop, and because my flight out was directly after work, it turned out that I did have my laptop bag with me, and since I knew that would be the case, I did put my toothbrush and an extra change of underwear and socks into the bag before I left home Friday morning.

So that’s all that was in my possession for three full days: a laptop, a cell phone, a toothbrush, and one change of underwear and socks. And it was extremely liberating!

I made my way through airports in record time. I got onto and off of airplanes with more ease than ever before. And most notably, I never had to do that last-minute inventory before leaving a hotel room or turning in the rental car — you know, the one where you look in all the corners to make sure you didn’t leave something behind. It’s nice to just walk out, knowing you couldn’t have left anything because you had nothing to leave!

At every moment, I felt completely free to do anything I wanted, or to change my plans to whatever sounded fun, because there was never any reason I had to return to any place, except to the airport in time for my flight home.

I think in the future, I will always try to travel this way, bringing little or nothing with me.

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17th May
2011
written by Randy

In the spirit of the minimalism challenge I’ve taken on this year, I’m really excited about the idea of the Minimalist Weekend… mostly because this is the perfect excuse for me to test out an experiment I’ve been wanting to do: travel with no luggage whatsoever.

So when the weekend of June 4-5 arrives, I’m going to fly to Houston and visit my friend Tanisha, who I met in Bologna during my trip to Italy this January, and when I go, I will not take any luggage whatsoever.

I’m really looking forward to this, because it will give me an extreme “test run” for my theories about future travels!

But what are you going to do? This weekend is for everyone… you don’t even have to be a minimalist! In fact, if you’re not currently a minimalist, but you’ve been curious about it, this is an excellent opportunity for you to give it a try for 48 hours and see what you think.

And if you are a minimalist, there’s really no excuse for you not participating. So get creative! Do something interesting. Make a few waves.

Here are some ideas for things you could do:

  • Don’t turn on your television or computer for the whole weekend.
  • Use only one plate, one fork, one knife, and one glass, and one frying pan.
  • Spend the weekend boxing up all the things you no longer use.
  • Give up the car. Walk or bike everywhere.
  • Ditch all the contents of your pockets and spend an entire weekend with only a bank card, an ID, and a house key.

Try something new. Push your boundaries. For 48 hours, test how much you can do without. I’ve even heard rumor of one person who might try to spend the entire weekend homeless!

What will you do?

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19th April
2011
written by Randy

I’ve been home from Poland for about a week now, but other than my emotional story about the Polish people, I really haven’t told you about Poland.

First, I didn’t see as much of the country as I could have, or would have liked to. This is partly due to the fact that I don’t speak fluent Polish, so things didn’t move as smoothly or naturally for me as I would have like. But more importantly, it is largely due to the fact that, as I said before the trip, I couldn’t have made this trip at all without the offer of a place to stay.

I stayed in hotels in Warsaw and Krakow, but I also spent some time in a smaller city called Kielce, and here I was treated to real Polish life outside the two biggest cities. (If you’re keeping count, that’s three more cities, which puts me at 18 on my way to 20 this year.)

Kielce is a small city, directly on the route between Warsaw and Krakow. The main draw in Kielce is the college, so you might think of it as a “college town.” There is certainly no tourism draw, and with the exception of some of the students, very few people speak English, so it’s a good opportunity to pick up Polish quickly.

Food in Kielce was quite good — even at Pizza Hut where (unlike in the U.S.) everything was actually made with fresh ingredients and quite good. My favorite discovery was a little place called Pierogowa Chata, or “Pierogi Hut”, in which I ate the most delicious pierogi that I’ve ever had in my life.

Warsaw is big and beautiful, clean and efficient. It bears all the indications of an important city in old Europe, after having been blown to smithereens in World War II. It’s obvious that everything there is new: much newer, even, than most American cities. And shiny.

But unlike American cities, the European city-planning remains in tact. Warsaw has a sprawling subway system, a large network of trams, and plenty of buses. Pedestrians walk under the enormous streets, which is not only safer, but much more interesting thanks to the numerous shops in the spaces down below.

In the old part of town called Stare Miasto (literally, Old City) all the architecture has be reconstructed based on the old plans, presenting a beautiful, old European city without any of the decay, dirt, or graffiti.

Food in Warsaw was less impressive. Not only is most of the architecture big, modern, and western… they restaurants are, too. Those that I saw lacked all the charm (and flavor!) of the smaller, home-style places in a lesser-known city.

In Krakow, however, this wasn’t the case. In spite of being a big city and popular tourist destination, Krakow still retained the old charm. The architecture is more old and interesting, the streets winding, the food delicious.

Krakow has no subway, but there are buses and trams. Of course I walked everywhere with no problem, so transportation isn’t much of an issue… and in fact, I think part of the charm of a place like Krakow is the experience of walking around. (I wonder if I would still feel that way in winter.)

The main square (Rynek Głowny) in Krakow is, quite possibly, my favorite place I have ever been. It’s big, beautiful, welcoming. I could easily imagine living in Krakow and spending my evenings in the square. In fact, Krakow is the first city outside of the U.S. where I could imagine myself living one day.

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11th April
2011
written by Randy

I’m starting to see a pattern developing. Travel is really affecting me. But when I travel to the sites of tragedies, I really grow. A lot.

Last winter, I traveled to several landmarks of American tragedies, all within a few days of each other, and I noticed that doing so had a profound effect on me. And I felt a strong connection in the Colosseum when I saw it in Rome, in February.

Well, I don’t think I can raise the stakes any higher. Today, I visited the site of history’s worst tragedy ever: Auschwitz. After this, it’s all downhill.

Walking around in Auschwitz feels like walking around in a summer camp. You’ve got the plain buildings, the dirt and gravel walkways, the barbed wire and watchtowers. Okay, so it’s a summer camp that doesn’t want you to leave…

For me, the profound moment was when I saw the hair. An entire room, filled with human hair. Everything else was a fact – a piece of history being recited. But seeing all that hair, suddenly I had a very tangible appreciation for the scale of the horrible thing that happened in that place.

The last thing you see on your tour at Auschwitz is a crematorium: the smallest one – a death-factory the Nazis thought was so insignificant that it wasn’t worth destroying. Then, you go to Birkenau, where all the style points disappear, and you learn about scales of quantity. Here are the ones they did destroy, but you can see their size, even in the rubble.

This entire experience was probably amplified by my visit to the museum in the old factory of Oskar Schindler yesterday. And even moreso by the memorials and reconstruction and monuments I saw in Warsaw last week.

Poland has been through hell. This country and its people know more about suffering than most of us in the US can ever imagine. And yet the people here are amazingly proud and upbeat. Jews or not, oppressed or not, these people are Poles and they’re proud of it.

Whether it’s the people I’ve met, who live in simple apartments with barely enough possessions to fill two suitcases, or the people I saw in photos in Auschwitz who packed everything they cared about into one suitcase… the theme has resonated with my own minimalism project this year.

Poles don’t derive their identity from their possessions. They don’t measure themselves by their jobs or their cars or their clothes. From the guy in the suit behind the hotel desk to the girl in the embarrassing uniform at the pierogi restaurant, everyone here walks proud. They love their family, they love their friends, and they love their land, their home, Poland.

After these two weeks, I’m finding myself surprisingly content with the simple fact that I’m alive. For 35 years, I’ve passionately chased hobbies, I’ve fed controversy, I’ve chased adventure, and I’ve done it all with a chip on my shoulder and an appetite for destruction. But today, at this moment, I don’t care.

Today, I’m just content – happy to be alive, and to have people I care about. Happy with my possessions that fit into two suitcases, and my right to travel to places like Auschwitz with a tour-guide rather than a gun in my back. And I’m happy that tomorrow I can go home, because I have something the millions of people in Auschwitz never got: a return ticket.

9th March
2011
written by Randy

One of the life-changing things I learned last year was to stop making lame excuses when a travel opportunity comes up. Now, when presented with an opportunity, I simply ask myself “is there any reason why I can’t go?” And as it turns out, the answer is usually no. So now I go!

I recently made a friend in Poland, who invited me to visit. Yeah, that’s pretty cool. But even more cool, is that there’s an empty second room, so that means no hotel costs. Suddenly this sounds like a very affordable trip!

So… is there any reason I can’t go? My work contract ends in a little more than two weeks. I can afford the plane ticket. And I’ve got at least five more cities to visit before my travel goal is met for the year. It’s unexpected, and early in the year, but this actually sounds perfect!

And so, I’m leaving March 30th and returning April 12th, and I’m going to see Poland, and who knows what else. Now it’s time to do some hardcare Polish language practice!

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13th February
2011
written by Randy

As a follow-up to last year’s goal of learning Italian, I began this year by spending 30 days in Italy, using the Italian I learned. This was also a big starting point for one of this year’s goals: visiting 20 cities in Europe.

I landed in Rome. Then, I visited Pisa, Florence, Milan, Turin, Genoa, Verona, Bologna, and Venice. From Venice, I took a short break and flew to Barcelona for a few days. Then, back to Venice, down to Bari, over to Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, and then back to Rome and home. Depending on whether or not you count Pompeii, that’s either 14 or 15 cities. For now, I’m going to call it 15, but I’ll aim for going over 20, just to keep things on the up-and-up.

I’m going to have to work for a while to pay for this trip, and to save some money for the next one. I probably won’t be doing another month-long trip this year, so visiting six more cities in Europe isn’t going to be as easy as it might sound in comparison to this one. But anyway, the goal is the experience, not the statistic.

Now, about Italy…

I was surprised to learn that Italy is very much not a modern country. It’s not at all what I expected. Hotels with internet access are hard to find. Televisions are old and often don’t work. In many cases, there is no heat or air conditioning, and when there is, it’s often inefficient.

Most businesses start closing between 5:00 and 7:00 pm, and after that, you’re lucky when you can find a restaurant or pub open… everything else is closed. Didn’t get something you needed? Oh well. Wait until tomorrow.

Life in Italy is extremely noisy. Italians talk very loud — so loud, in fact, that when I spoke to them in my normal voice, they didn’t even hear me. Their phones are loud. Their ringers are loud. The streets are filled with noisy scooters and mopeds and jackhammers, reverberating through the brick and mortar canyons created by large buildings and narrow streets.

Also surprising, and saddening, the country is in a sad state of disrepair. It’s not surprising that with so much there that is “old”, much of it is in need of maintenance. But what is surprising is how much of it was just covered in litter, dirt, and graffiti. From the moment you arrive in Italy, it is glaringly obvious that Italians just don’t take much pride in their environment.

Moreover, they don’t have nearly as much pride in themselves as I was expecting. There is a certain stereotype of the fashion-minded Italian, especially in Milan — one of the capitals of the fashion world — but the majority of people I saw were not dressed with any more care than anyone else, anywhere else in the world. And especially in Milan, I was surprised to find that most people had nothing at all in the way of fashion. Not that it matters, of course, just that it was a surprise.

I’ll just mention one more disappointment. The food. The typically “Italian” foods that I expected to indulge in turned out to be quite the opposite of my expectations. From Rome south, all the places with a food reputation turned out to be the places where I had my worst meals. Naples — birthplace of pizza — had some of the worst pizza I’ve ever eaten. In Rome, Naples, Bari, Sorrento, and Capri, the food seemed no better than an average boxed Italian dinner here in the US.

Of course it wasn’t all disappointments. There was also a lot to like…

From Florence north, I had some of the best meals of my life. I had amazing pizza in Genoa. The tortellini bolognese in Bologna was like something from a dream. And in Milan I got the most amazing serving of lasagne I’ve ever had in my life. Oh, and let me not forget that every dessert I had in the north was worth writing home about.

While the big cities were mostly dingy, decayed, and crawling with indigents, I found most of the smaller and/or less-popular cities to be beautiful, friendly, even magical places. In particular, if you ever want to die of a dreamy romantic overdose, spend a week in Verona followed by a week in Sorrento. Those are two of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, both filled with wonderful, pleasant people.

In fact, speaking of the people… Italy may have its defects, but the people are not one of them. Almost everyone I encountered during my month-long adventure through Italy was polite, friendly, and warm. You might not think so at first, because Italians carry themselves differently than Americans, but once you adjust to the cultural differences, you quickly find the Italian people to be the country’s best asset.

All in all, in spite of several complaints, I want to be clear that I really did come to love Italy, and I definitely enjoyed myself there. I will certainly return. And now that I understand how things work, and have seen such a variety of places there, I’ll know where to go and what to do next time, so I can enjoy myself much more.

Venice St. Peter's Square

Genova Bari

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7th February
2011
written by Randy

I’ve done an incredible amount of traveling in the past few months. And it hasn’t been the recently trendy “permanent travel, professional blogger” kind of travel, where people basically move to a new part of the world and then stay there for a few months.

No, I’ve been doing the hard kind of travel: sleeping in a different city every night, carrying everything with me on my back all day. Going back to mid-November, the longest I’ve been in one place was a week in my new apartment. But I’m learning a lot.

First, and most obviously, I am learning a lot about minimalism. I’m learning that no matter how cool a thing is or how good of a discount it’s offered at, the idea of adding its weight to my back keeps me from buying it 99.7% of the time. When I do buy something, it’s to replace something else which I will then dispose of. (The only exception has been a hair-clipper, which cost the same as a professional haircut, but is reusable.)

I’m finding it very easy to dress every day from a limited selection of clothing, and in spite of only bringing a handful of items with me, I now know that I could have packed even less. I’m very tempted to travel with no bag whatsoever on my next trip.

I’m also learning about taking opportunities immediately, rather than browsing, thinking, looking for something better or more convenient. In Italy, I’ve found that you will often return to a store or restaurant after very little time only to find it closed. And you may not find another one open for a long time.

So when I see someone selling water, I generally buy a bottle even if I’m not thirsty. If I see an ATM, I generally withdraw some cash even if I don’t need it. And when I see a restaurant, I don’t bother looking around town for one that might be better. Having learned to take what’s there, right away, has greatly improved my experience here compared to my frustrating first week in this country.

Quality also means a lot more to me as a nomad than it ever did before. Bad shoes make their presence known with every step. An awkward backpack will have your shoulders hurting before noon. And a poor-fitting shirt, jacket, pants, etc will irritate you at every opportunity. Those things end up in trash cans just minutes after a suitable replacement is found.

Italy is far less modern than I had expected, and that fact has made itself painfully well-known in the lack of Internet access. A month of prepaid data access for my iPad has turned out to be a great decision. Using a smart phone as my primary form of internet access for a month would have been a painful experience.

Of course that’s not to say that a month of using an iPad isn’t painful — it certainly is. Autocorrect is becoming my #1 enemy, mostly for the words it learns incorrectly. And after three weeks of typing against a glass screen, my hands really started to hurt. The last week has been hell. I’m going to strongly consider a MacBook Air this year.

The iPad also brings other complications. It’s large enough, and conspicuous enough that you don’t really want to take it out in a lot of places, so when it’s your only connection to the internet you often put off using it. By comparison, an iPhone is more inconspicuous when you need to check a map or confirm a reservation. And while I was able to find a no-contract micro-SIM for iPad in Italy, I was not able to get one in Spain.

Finally, I’m finding more and more value in being nondescript — blending in, rather than standing out. After ditching my terribly “American” loose-fitting coat and athletic shoes for a more snug, stylish jacket and more typically Italian shoes, people have begun treating me altogether differently. On arrival, people would walk up to me and ask “you speak English, yes?” Now, Italians stop me and ask for directions, the time, train schedules, etc, all in Italian, and seem surprised when they hear me respond with an accent.

It seems that throughout the places I’ve traveled, if you wear mostly blacks and grays, keep your hair basically short, and look people in the eyes as they pass, they will assume you’re just another passer-by. It probably also helps if you’re not dragging a suitcase behind you.

27th January
2011
written by Randy

It’s 2011 now, and with the exception of the two states I missed, I’m done with my 50-states challenge. But even though I’m currently in Italy, working on a new travel goal, I want to back up and share some things I learned in my experience of seeing the US.

Traveling carless

Transportation is usually well managed from airports. In cities with mass-transit rail systems, there is almost always a train available from the airport to downtown. I’ve used such transit opportunities in Chicago, New York, Portland, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and (with the help of a free shuttle bus) Los Angeles. It’s my understanding that this is also possible in Atlanta, Boston, and Washington DC, though I haven’t used these.

In most other cities, there are city buses available at the airport and usually leading to some sort of a downtown bus transit center. I’ve used these in Little Rock, Oklahoma City, and Las Vegas, but city buses are generally perceived in the US as the domain of the poor and/or low-class, so they’re usually dirty, smelly, and often in a state of poor repair.

When using public transportation — especially buses — I’ve found I was often limited in what parts of the city I could reach, and what hours the tranportation runs, which can be a problem when it comes to reaching a hotel. Fortunately most hotels provide complimentary shuttle service to and from the airport, so after you’re done exploring downtown, just get back on the bus or train and go back to the airport… then call the hotel and have them pick you up for free!

Sometimes you need a car

There is still a lot of the US that simply can’t be reached by planes, trains, or buses. Sometimes there is no alternative to renting a car, that that isn’t always a bad thing!

With a rental car, it’s possible to see all of New England in one three-day weekend, if you pick up a rental car at the airport in Manchester and drive in a circle. Likewise, you can get a car in Salt Lake City and drive in a much bigger circle to see most of the west in one week.

When planning each trip, I used Google Maps to draw routes through several cities in several states, and form my plan. Often, you can find cities near each other at the edges of two or three states, perhaps with only an hour or less between them. You can cover a lot of ground in one weekend with a rental car if you plan it right!

Hotels

Obviously, the more you’re on the move, the less time you have to spend in hotels, which allows you to keep costs down. If you’ve rented a car and really want to keep the budget low, you can sleep in the car at a rest area on the highway. Or, in a pinch, you can safely park in a Wal-Mart parking lot to sleep overnight without being disturbed. I didn’t resort this during my journeys this year, but I’ve done both in the past.

When keeping hotel costs down, perhaps the best tool I’ve had at my disposal this year was the Priceline app on my iPod. If I’ve got a rental car, I usually go for the option with the lowest price. If I’m using public transportation, I usually browse for listings with the word “airport” in them.

Couchsurfing is another option that could serve to reduce or eliminate hotel costs for your 50-states journey. But I have never used it and can’t speak to its effectiveness.

Internet

I actually did a large amount of my traveling after having made the decision to get rid of my cell phone, so I was completely disconnected most of the time. But when it came to finding hotels, attractions, and directions, there was rarely any need to worry.

At almost half of the airports I’ve been through, I was able to get online with my iPod or iPad for free. The rest offer Wi-Fi at a cost, but I refuse to pay. On highways and in most cities, you can find free Wi-Fi at any McDonalds or Starbucks location. Most coffee shops provide internet access. And on several occasions, I’ve actually parked my rental car outside of a hotel, and used their free Wi-Fi for a few minutes to find what I needed.

What to see? Where to eat? What to do?

It’s not hard to think of something to do in New York, or Washington DC, or Hollywood, but what do you do when you’re in Little Rock? What is there to see in San Antonio? Where should you eat in Portland?

Whenever I travel to a new city, there are two things I look at before anything else. Flavor Town USA has an interactive map which plots every episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and has proven to be an excellent tool for finding good eats. And 43 Places lists several popular sights worth visiting in any state or city. Often, just visiting those two sites will give you enough to plan your visit in a particular state.

And if you use 43Places, you can also easily keep track of your travel progress, and see what you’ve done and how much you’ve got left. What more could you ask for?

Hotel keys
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2nd January
2011
written by Randy

The very first thing on my list for 2011 is more travel. I had such an incredible time last year seeing all 48 of the continental United States. I came two states short of reaching my goal to visit all 50 (and I intend to finish up those last two this year!) but the experiences I had were really quite amazing.

I think travel provides me with the closest thing to a spiritual experience that I’ve personally ever known, and I plan to keep doing it for the rest of my life.

Now that I’ve seen the US, I want to see everything else… starting with Europe.

Saying you’ve visited a country can be sort of a cop-out. After all, I was in Germany on 4 separate occasions last year, but I never stepped outside of an aiport during any of those times. Sure, people spoke German, and I was in Germany, eating German food and spending euros… but it’s not the same. It doesn’t really count, does it?

Thus, I’ve decided to design this goal around visiting cities, rather than countries. There are a few things that make cities more a better goal for travel — or at least it’s better for my style of travel. Here are a few reasons:

You have to leave the airport to see the city! Sounds obvious, but how you frame an idea in your mind is important. Have I been in Germany? Yes. Have I seen Münich, Düsseldorf, or Frankfurt? No. You have to leave the airport to see the city.

Many countries have very different cultures in various regions. If the goal was to visit Germany, you could do the obvious thing and go to Berlin, but you would miss the lilt and personality of Köln, the Bavarian culture of Münich, etc. If the goal was to visit Spain, you could go to Barcelona, but you would miss everything that makes Madrid, Pamplona, and Valencia unique.

There are a lot of cities! If you were paying attention to the names in the previous paragraph, you noticed that there are a lot of things to see! France has Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille. Italy has Rome, Venice, Milan, Florence. Poland has Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw. And so on! There’s so much to see, why stop at just setting foot in the country?

So… my first goal for 2011 is to visit 20 European cities. It’s less than 50 states, but it’s much farther away, and more expensive to reach! I came really close to reaching my goal of 50 states, but in doing so I saw much more than 50 cities. So, I hope I’ll do that well with this goal.

As with any year-long goal, it’s easier to be successful if you get started early. And I’m getting started in just 10 days! As you may know, I spent last year learning Italian, and my reward is that this year I will visit Italy for 30 days!

On January 11th I will land in Rome, and then I will spend the next month wandering around Italy by train. I intend to visit Rome, Florence, Bologna, Venice, Milan, and whatever else I have time for, so the year is off to a good start!

22nd December
2010
written by Randy

As you can see from the name I chose for this site, this has truly been an amazing year. In fact, my life has changed dramatically this year. With the year coming to an end, I want to look back at how much I’ve seen and done, and share with you some of the many things that have made this such an amazing year for me.

It all started when I created a popular language blog. I started it as a way to share language learning advice with a few friends, to save me the work of typing the same thing several times. But it rapidly grew into something very popular, much faster and more successfully than I could have ever imagined or hoped it would.

The commitment to learn a new language every year has led to some really incredible meetings and opportunities in regular life, too. It has given me unique things to talk about with people I don’t know, and it has resulted in me being told on many occasions, “you are by far the most interesting person I’ve met in a long time.” I can’t tell you how nice it feels to hear things like that!

At the end of winter, I reconnected with a good friend, who I hadn’t seen or heard from in almost 20 years, thanks to Facebook. We were emailing our hellos on a Tuesday, and by that Friday I had flown to see him. It was great catching up, and for a gypsy like me, it was also quite meaningful to connect the present with something from that far into the past.

This spring, I visited Uzbekistan, which was also my first ever trip outside of the country. While there, I met a friend who I’d previously only known over the internet. I survived on my own in a non-English speaking part of the world. Oh, and I at horse… that was memorable. And delicious.

By summer, I paid off the last of my credit card debt, a sum that at one time had totalled almost $50,000. Being completely debt free has absolutely changed my life. And doing it the honest way — by working hard and paying it off as agreed — gives me a great sense of pride and accomplishment.

At the end of summer, I spent a week in Barcelona, seeing the sights, meeting new people, and even hanging out with some really great Russians. I ate tapas and paella, I went to a topless beach, and I slapped a hooker for touching me on the ass.

This fall, I cancelled my cell phone, and I have been completely phoneless ever since. I have lived happily for four months without a cell phone or a home phone, and the difference I experience in my quality of life is unbelievable.

Shortly thereafter, I threw away my alarm clock. I haven’t owned a clock of any kind for two months, and I haven’t woken up to the sound of an alarm in even longer than that. My days start out so pleasantly, I can’t imagine ever having another clock.

In a process which took almost a whole year to complete, I had my photography published. I was contacted by someone who had seen and liked my photos, and I was invited to be part of a collection including some of the best names in photography today. It’s nice to be published, but it’s even nicer to be discovered.

As I promised at the beginning of the year, I learned to speak Italian fluently. There were a few times when I wondered if I would succeed, but one evening, sitting at a pizza shop telling my Italian friend a story from my past, the moment hit me when I realized that I had just reached fluency. That’s a new tool that will be with me for the rest of my life.

I’ve completed several of the tasks from my bucket list, the most memorable of which was that I bungee jumped for the first time. Standing in a high place, looking down, and making the conscious decision to jump head first, trusting in some piece of stretchy cord to protect you… well, that kind of changes your perspective on life.

I have set foot in all 48 of the continental states of the US. I fell short of all 50 states by two: Alaska and Hawaii, which are admittedly the most difficult. But I’ll be sure to visit those next year, and then my task will be official and complete.

I travelled a lot, and I saw several important and/or historical sites for the first time, including:

  • the Space Needle
  • the Gateway Arch
  • Mount Rushmore
  • the Crazy Horse monument
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Old Faithful
  • the Alamo
  • Taos pueblo
  • Oklahoma City National Monument
  • the site of the JFK assassination
  • Little Rock Central High School
  • the Hollywood Boulevard “Walk of Fame”

Many of the things I saw affected me in a really deep way, especially those I saw in the first half of December. More than anything else, seeing the entire continental US has given me a really clear understanding of what this country is, and where it has been. I feel that I can honestly say, I know what it means to be an American.

But perhaps the most significant of all things is that throughout my travels this year, I have met with dozens of truly amazing people with whom I’ve connected online though my blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and other social networks. In meeting these people, I’ve had several really profound experiences, and it has all taught me the most valuable lesson of all this year: possessions don’t matter, things don’t matter, money doesn’t matter; only the people you meet and the experiences you share… only the memories you carry with you can truly make you happy.

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