Greetings from the open road. I’m in what I call real Africa all week, having fun exploring two new countries.
Condé Nast Traveler publishes a feature called “The Perfect Trip Every Time.” It’s a good headline, but I wonder about the subtext: is it really possible to have a perfect trip where nothing goes wrong? I take at least twelve overseas trips a year, and none of them are ever perfect.
When I leave my iPod in the back of a taxi, as I’ve done twice now (Peru and Saudi Arabia), that is not perfect. When I get stranded due to airline delays (Warsaw, Male, Vancouver, etc.), that is not perfect.
Check out Sean and Jodi’s recent updates from Thailand—it’s safe to say there have been no perfect trips to Bangkok recently. A few months ago I was in town and had meetings at coffee shops in the lovely CentralWorld Plaza. As you can see, its current status is definitely not perfect.
Hopefully your favorite shopping center won’t be torched by protesters, but you can probably count on some low points wherever you roam. When I encounter the low points, I always ask myself this question: would I rather be doing anything else?
I could always stay home and drive my Prius to the job at the bank. But since I have neither a Prius nor a bank job, I can deal with the low points. In fact, accepting the low points tends to make the high points more special.
So far this year I’ve had more travel low points than usual. It could be because I’ve been visiting more challenging countries lately, or maybe I’m just tired from an especially intense schedule; I’m not sure exactly. But even with the craziness, I still feel purposeful and motivated to keep going.
High Points on my current trip so far: four new countries! (Well, two for now… but I should get another two next week if all goes well.) Cameroon is a fun little place: it’s definitely real Africa, but doesn’t feel as desperately poor as some of the other spots in the region. I went running beside the port in Douala last night, and had a lot of good memories about running in West Africa years ago.
Low Points on my current trip so far: I had forgotten how challenging travel in this part of the world can be. Some things just don’t work out the way I might expect or want them to. When you try to fight against the system here, you don’t usually get very far.
Also, Equatorial Guinea is quite possibly the most expensive place I’ve ever been. Due to a booming oil industry, everything costs a small fortune in the capital of Malabo. I booked the only room in town for $367 a night, which I suspect is the most I’ve ever spent on a hotel room in my life. But then when I showed up and they couldn’t find my reservation, I was offered a room for $508. Yes, truly—a $508 hotel room, the only one in town, with 8am check-out. Did I mention I was checking in at 11pm?
Continental breakfast goes for another $39, and everything is paid in cash since no credit cards are accepted anywhere in the country. I finally argued the rate down to about $400, or about $44 an hour for the time I was allowed to spend in the room before someone came knocking to evict me at 8:15 the next morning. Crazy! But that’s just how it goes in Equatorial Guinea these days. Keep it in mind the next time you’re planning a holiday trip over this way.
I try to live in the present, but when I hit the low points, I look ahead to the future. Thus, in Malabo I thought about coming to Cameroon and not having to pay $400 for a few hours of sleep. (Thank God the once-a-week Ethiopian Airlines flight to Douala was only two hours late—I didn’t have a backup plan for that one if something went wrong.)
Dissatisfaction comes about from wanting something different but not being willing to take action toward achieving it. I’m taking action, moving forward, always thinking about what’s happening now and what’s to come.
Most importantly, remember that highs and lows go together. Bring on the highs! Bring on the lows! Let’s live a little, people. I’m trying to do the same.
While I’m on the road, I’m also reading a helpful book by Scott Belsky called Making Ideas Happen. Scott writes about the bias toward action, a concept I really like. A life oriented toward action and creation sounds good to me.
Lastly, my take on perfect: don’t try to have a perfect day, a perfect trip, a perfect life. Try to have a meaningful one instead. It will probably contain some high points and some low points, and that’s OK.
How about you—what are your highs and lows?
P.S. A note on comments: West Africa is good for running, but not for high-speed internet. Posting your comments and responding to emails may take a bit longer than usual over the next week.