Since all of my drinking and dating stories are pretty much train-wrecks that I can barely remember, I decided I would do a top ten list on other things that I enjoy while drinking... which is pretty much everything, but I decided to limit it to my top ten favorite/memorable travel moments. (Sexual exploits have been excluded, you'd have to buy my book for details on those escapades.)
10. Uncommercialization in Thailand - Up to this point, having been a veteran of Mexican, Hawaiian, and other "commercial" beach locales, it was exhilarating to get on a rickety boat and be met with clear, turquoise water and white sand at every destination. To see monkeys parading around on beautiful islands, unspoiled by the sight of hotel high rises, is something you can't dream up. Stopping for the occasional Tom Kha Gai (Thai Chicken Coconut Soup) in a shack on the beach with a Singha or Chang beer - all for about $2 - made you think of what world-class beaches were like before the onslaught of commercialization and what they say you should "feel" when visiting.
9. Discovering My Roots in Beijing - Having been born and raised in Texas, with a long stint in California, I didn't really know what I was missing about my heritage until it snuck up on me. It was an awe-inspiring moment. Nothing serious, nothing dramatic, just a normal every day situation. I was standing at a crosswalk waiting to cross the street with dozens, maybe hundreds of Chinese people and I stopped for a moment and thought, "these are my people. This is where I'm from." I didn't move for a minute, I just wanted to take it in. While I'm a proud American, everyone should visit their country of origin at some point. Realizing the weight of all that has come before you makes this world a little bigger and a little smaller at the same time.
8. Playing Basketball in Santorini - On my way back from the beach, I happened to pass upon a street basketball game. On an island. In Greece. In 2001! These were Greek locals, but this was America's game, and I would show them a thing or two - or so I thought. I ran home to get my shoes, because I'm always a sucker for pickup basketball games, and came back ready to dominate. First off, they asked me to put my shirt on (some things never change) and we proceeded to play half-court, only things were different. They were physical. Very physical. Play never stopped. A shot would go up, but either team could make a play on the ball and go right back up. It was then that I knew the United States was in for some trouble. I was getting outworked and outhustled by Greeks who lived on an island! While we were practicing dunking (or attempting) in the U.S., stopping play at each basket, calling fouls on a light touch - they were straight up playing the game the way it should be played. USA finished an unfathomable 6th place at the 2002 World Championship and took home a Bronze at the 2004 Olympics. The moment here wasn't the "I told you so," it was playing a sport I love on a foreign soil, with people who loved it just as much as I do, and learning that preconceived notions can be our biggest limiting factor. I work hard when I travel to have a very open mind. I want to learn something new without thinking I already know. It's one of the gifts I learned while playing basketball on one of Greece's premier islands.
7. Dependency Issues in Costa Rica - After spending six days in Tamarindo on the coast of Costa Rica, I was intent on heading to Monte Verde for the country's world-renowned ziplining before heading back to the States. Impeding my effort was my travel buddy's reluctance to do anything but drink beers on the beach. This was my first lesson in travel that started to loosen the ingrained notion that we MUST all travel together and do it with familiar faces. Fed up, I went to the hotel bar and professed my desire to rent a car and head five hours away by sunrise. A new friend said she would go with me. That kind of spontaneity was fascinating to me at the time. It turned out to be my favorite moment of the trip. It wasn't her company, it was renting a car, driving through the towns of Costa Rica and stopping wherever we chose. I'll never forget stopping the car as a villager slowly moved his cows to, who knows where, or watching a local festival come through the streets of a small town, as masks adorned their faces. Not a tourist in sight. Culture happens in every country, but some of the best moments are never intended for our eyes.
6. Liberation on The French Riviera - First off, the French Riviera has some of the worst beaches I've ever been to. It explains why the French are such assholes. I'd be pissed, too, if I were laying on pebbles and jagged rocks! In an area so pretentious, a friendship was strengthened, and two guys were like boys, given a new lease on life. Weaving our way through $100,000 cars with an ocean view, no matter which direction we went, two guys on a scooter (one shirtless the entire time), didn't have a care in the world. Monte Carlo, Monaco, Nice, no destination or beach was too grand. And no female was exempt from a drive-by honking. I'd like to think this was the trip that solidified my friend's breakup with his girlfriend. He knew something was missing. Fortunately, he ended up with the girl of his dreams just a few months after that. Liberation to fulfillment.
5. A Hidden Beach On Puerto Rico's Islands - This was my first trip alone. I flew out to Puerto Rico on four day's notice without an agenda, except to relax. It wasn't until the tail end of my trip that I decided to check out the two islands east -- Vieques and Culebra. If I had known, I would've spent the majority of my time there. On Culebra, I found one of North America's most beautiful, least famous beaches, in Flamenco (or sometimes called Flamingo) Beach. With no cars available, I rented a golf cart and made my way over to the only place you can stay on Flamenco Beach, a small area of villas, that I plan on never mentioning the name, so that it remains unspoiled. After taking my golf cart to the other side of the island to find a bar, I gave about five people a ride back to their campsite near Flamenco and we decided to grab a bottle of rum, lay out on the beach, drink and stare at the stars. We talked about everything people don't normally talk about. You should try it some time. Everything, that is.
4. Freedom Jog Around Mykonos - Getting a little antsy over constantly laying out on beaches and island hopping, my sister agreed to come jogging with me from one side of the island of Santorini to the other. Just like with basketball, it was one of those normal things you do that give you a sense of peace while on vacation. Too often, you worry and fret about where you're going to be next, how long it is until your vacation ends, how much something costs, or where things are on a map. This jog allowed me to go shirtless, of course, but also took me through a small countryside of a small island. Nothing between me and the rode - heading to a destination that I knew I would love. It was a pure and full release from the stresses I had grown accustomed to.
3. New Frontiers in Croatia - By now, you can see that renting any kind of vehicle is a liberating experience while on vacation. It allows you to make your own path and to discover things at your own pace. Riding around the island of Hvar on a scooter, we cruised around to castles that were built hundreds of years ago and towns that were around before Columbus even set foot on America. You don't always find a country's best at their world-famous monuments. What feelings do you remember from the Statue of Liberty or of the Golden Gate Bridge? Those feelings, for me, pale in comparison to learning a few Croatian words from a local and laughing over failed attempts. Laughing is the only universal language I know. Do it freely.
2. Open Heart to Budapest - When I got to the train station in Berlin, I didn't know where I was going to go next. I figured it could be up north, towards Stockholm, or Vienna, or possibly Krakow. Where I ended up was Budapest, Hungary on an overnight train. This was taking my sense of "not knowing" just a little bit further. But, like with my experiences in the past, I kept my heart and my mind open. I ended up in the train with two strangers, who both were Hungarian and spoke English. At our first stop, we bought two bottles of wine, some cheese, and we talked until morning. One of my new friends asked me where I was staying in town and I told her I didn't know. She said I would stay with her then. It ended up being the top floor condo of a building overlooking the Danube River. I stayed there for four nights with no expectations. Life hits you in amazing ways if you let it.
1. Friends Around the World in St. Tropez - Following on the heels of cruising the French Riviera on a scooter, I happened to meet two of my favorite people in the world on the beaches of Monaco. Both from Switzerland, I met up with them again in Nice and we embarked on a journey of no return. What each day had in mind, we pretended not to notice. When we got bored of Nice, we rented a car and decided to visit one of their friends in St. Tropez. From there, we played. That's the best way to describe it. We rented a paddle boat with a slide and parked it right next to hundred million dollar yachts and played. We didn't care and it was wonderful. Then, we drove across Europe to Switzerland. Whoever imagines road trips across Europe? You should.
It's not easy to put into words moments that have become legendary in my mind. I know I have not done them justice, but I tried. I do hope you read between the lines. Sometimes we're infatuated with knowing. Knowing the outcome. Knowing our destination. Knowing our itinerary. But, my best moments have been in the journey. I'm not sure where I'll be in the future - in work and play - but I know I'll love what I'll be doing. And I'll love every step of the way. I wish the same for you.
Keep your heart, your mind, your eyes open. Let life hit you.
The Silicon Valley Bachelor