“What would you do, if you didn’t have to worry about money and obligations?”. This is the question I have been asking people who I meet in different parts of the world and almost unanimously, no matter which country or culture they are from, I receive the answer “I want to travel…”
I am currently sitting, with my toes tugged into the warm sand, in a beachside café in Zipolite, Mexico, overlooking the ocean, which is reflecting deep lapis azure colors, and observing the sun slowly sinking over the horizon pondering this question and the deeper meanings of true happiness.
For the past three years, I’ve been living and traveling on my 45-foot sailboat “Kailani”, sailing along the Pacific coast of Central American, crossing over to the Atlantic side to visit Cartagena, Colombia and most recently returning through the Panama canal back up to Mexico. What most people don’t realize, when answering my question, is that in reality, you don’t need to be wealthy in order to travel. Yes, money makes your travels a lot easier and more comfortable, but you probably also won’t experience the adventures and excitement of budget travelers, who sleep in tents on remote beaches, dance under pristine, rainforest waterfalls, get invited to family dinners by indigenous tribes, or shower naked in a refreshing rain squall.
As I keep pondering my slowly fading memories I decided to put them into writing not only to keep a record for myself but also to share my adventures, trials and tribulations with you, hoping to inspire and ignite a spark in you that will give you the courage to follow your dreams and hopefully give you the strength to make the necessary changes in your life – not next year, or next month, or tomorrow, but right NOW.
I wasn’t born into a rich family and I definitely didn’t win the lottery (even though I tried many times). Growing up in Germany, I was raised in a middle class family, barely finished my high school with somewhat below average grades without much prospect of getting accepted into a decent university. My father had passed away right before my high school graduation and I didn’t feel very inspired to look for a manual labor job that would probably kill me before I turned 20 years old. (Personally, I still think he literally worked himself to death, working long hours and being stressed out about his mortgages and providing for his family).
So I ended up asking myself the question “What would make me happy again and allow me to start a new life?” The answer came quickly “America”, the land of the free, the land of possibilities, and the land of the best hamburgers.” What I didn’t realize when I made my decision to move to the US and enroll into university is that America is also the land of the workaholics.
The next fifteen years went by like a blur – I finished my Finance degree, started working at various different companies, got married to a beautiful Hungarian girl and had a wonderful daughter with her. I was living the American dream – I had a house with a mortgage, two cars with a loan and a rat race job that allowed me to break even every month (sound familiar?) Sitting in traffic, amongst thousands of fellow worker bees, I realized that I was trapped in a corporate system that encourages its population to be subservient workers who are brain-washed to find identity and meaning of life in consumption and new purchases. However, as we all know this quick-fix feeling of completeness that we derive from new material acquisitions quickly fades away. So we put our focus on the next new item on our Amazon wish list to stop the constant, yet certain, drain of our illusionary well-being. Most of us in today’s society find distraction through phones, Instagram, YouTube and movies keeping us occupied yet disconnected from nature and our true selves. While I could write many pages on this subject (and I think I made my point about my opinion of today’s society), it would not serve the purpose of this blog and rather than ranting on, I would rather write about things that will inspire and give you hope.
So what changed and how did I decide to quit and take off? The one thing I learned early on, which also helped me tremendously to cope with the death of my father, was the eastern philosophy of Taoism. I was lucky to enter a monastery and speak to a monk who asked me some very pointed questions provoking me to look within my own being and to continuously keep evaluating my actions and observing the flow of nature. It is what led me to analyze my happiness level and showed me that unless I actively made some changes in my life, nothing will improve. After eleven years of marriage, my wife and I spontaneously decided to divorce. It is hard to put in words, but it did not feel right anymore and we both were stagnating both personally and professionally. We remained good friends and still have a very good relationship, which I am forever grateful for, also for the sake of our amazing daughter.
The second step was to quit my job, sell everything and purchase a sailboat. I knew that if I didn’t follow my dream of traveling right now, at this moment in my life, it would probably never happen. We tend to keep pushing off those future plans with excuses such as not enough savings, having too many commitments or not feeling healthy enough. While I was single again, without commitments, I barely had any savings left after purchasing my boat and I did suffer tremendously from chronic sinusitis and stomach pains. However, within six months of my divorce and my boat purchase I left San Diego heading south to warmer climates and for the first time in many years, feeling free and happy as a child, knowing that I was finally following the path of my heart and soul.
This is where my travel adventures begin…
Many readers may ask “how much experience with boats did I have” and the truth is – not much, at least not offshore. I’ve lived in Hawaii and Aruba where I worked as scuba instructor on dive boats and eventually operated and captained smaller motor and sailboats. I also windsurfed all my life, so I naturally had a good understanding of the wind, waves and weather. However, none of these experiences prepare you for a long offshore journey, hundreds of miles away from shore and cell phone towers, without the safety of fellow boaters or Coast Guard close by.
After I purchased my boat (in May), I gave myself five months to retrofit, outfit and prepare my new floating home, working insane hours to be able to meet my deadline (November). I performed most of the work myself, not only to avoid the $100 hourly rate of skilled boat labor, but also to get to really know my boat, acquiring the skills to fix everything myself (this is probably the best advice I would give to any aspiring sailor). I also enrolled in the annual Baja Ha Ha boat rally, which starts in San Diego and finishes in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a ten-day journey with around 150 fellow boaters escaping the winter months of California.
Traveling with this diverse group luxury sailboats, motor yachts, ragged cruiser sailors, both old and young, gave me more confidence, knowing that if I had problems (and I did have them), there would be a greater chance to seek help than if I was all alone out at sea. On the other hand I was worried about sailing too close to other boats and possibly colliding with them at night (I consequently left San Diego dead last and sailed between 80 to 100 miles offshore, knowing that most others would try to “hug” the coastline due south).
When going on longer sailboat journeys, especially close to the coast, it is a good idea to keep a constant lookout for ships, other recreational boats, or fishing vessels and their long nets. For that reason, I enrolled the help of three other people – two of them I found on a website, called www.crewbay.com and the other person came recommended by one of the aforementioned internet recruits. I had never met anyone of them and I was pretty apprehensive about having strangers sail with me for ten days in the confined space of a 45-foot sailboat. Fortunately, my two "crewbay" candidates, Huub and Dani, worked out great and we got along from Day 1. Unfortunately, the third person, who came recommended, turned out a disaster and would, slowly but surely, annoy everyone aboard for the next ten days, until I eventually had to send her off my boat in a climactic confrontation (I don’t like disharmony and arguments and I am a peace and fun loving personality, but in this instance it was unavoidable). However, at this point, nothing could shake my equilibrium, because I was listening to my heart, knowing that there will be ups and downs as is the normal course of our existence and the dynamic rhythm of our universe.
In my next blog post I will be writing about the Baja Ha Ha experience and all the drama and adventures we encountered. I hope you will join me and keep reading, because this is where it gets interesting.
I hope you will continue reading my next blog post: “Adventures on the Baja Ha Ha”
My first trial happened the night after we had left San Diego (during the next few years I found out that problems on a sailboat always seem to happen at night).