In January of 2001, I quit my job, sold my New York apartment, and launched MariesWorldTour.com 2001, a year-long Internet-based expedition in which I circumnavigated the world almost entirely by surface transport. The Africa part of this was the basis for my book, Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik (2006, Seal Press).
I took freighter ships across the oceans, buses, trucks, and trains across continents. I traveled from east to west—zigzagging up and down from north to south—visiting the US, Australia, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, China, Russia, and on into Europe. From there, I caught a ship to Cape Town and headed north to Cairo over four months, then proceeded to Israel where I caught a ship to Italy. I finished my trip by traveling from the UK to the US on Cunard's famed QE2.
Over the course of the year, I uploaded tales of my trip to my website, coding HTML in remote cybercafes and scanning in photos. The trip was a virtual field trip for all following along.
I found myself in a disturbingly similar spot in late 2010 to the spot I'd been at in 2000. I was tired of my job (which was quite similar to the one I'd had before) and was living right back where I'd started in 1988 when I'd first come to the New York-area, before I bought the condo I'd sold to finance my 2001 voyage. It was time for a change, but not in any great soul-searching way. I know how to travel now, having lived in Germany, Australia, Spain, Uganda, Namibia, Kuwait, and Cairo since my original expedition. I don't really expect much from the road as far as any internal revelations, since I think that the road is just the tiring and fascinating road, not the therapist so many people seem to equate it with. I'm not on a quest to find myself. I'm right here, thanks. I expect exhaustion, fried food, dust, and discomfort along with those gems of moments that we stumble over in unexpected places.
And the technology! How it's changed. In 2001, I didn't even bother carrying my laptop, and a mobile phone was out of the question then. There were no global ISPs and the capability to cheaply swap SIMs just didn't exist yet. Hotels didn't have wi-fi. Starbucks didn't even have wi-fi. I could take digital photos but the quality was crap and I couldn't get the files off of my camera without causing an international incident at the Internet cafe (no one wanted a stranger using their floppy drive for fear of viruses and remember we didn't have USB drives then). I ended up using film, scanning in photos at cybercafes, and coding HTML in Notepad.
Blogger and Wordpress have transformed that landscape into something easy and user-friendly. My laptop magically controls my virtual life now, from the comfort of most hotel rooms. My remarkable little Lumix ZS3 shoots outstanding photos as well as decent HD video.
Some things haven't changed though. I'm still using the same backpack, the same sunglasses I bought in Darwin in 2001, all the same packing gear, the little flashlight I picked up in Singapore, and the passport holder I got in Berlin in June of 2001. I'm a bit heavier, less blond (but still tracking down hairdressers every six weeks), a lot more slack about planning and eating right, and I'm still fighting with touts and being miserable on long bus journeys.
Some things won't change. Ever.