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Lift Off!

July 25, 1994. Boxing up a two-bedroom apartment is no small task. I have been working away at it for a week, one room — or a portion of a room — at a time. Yesterday I finished the kitchen. Today I am working on my office. I can spend days neatly packing things into boxes, and then whisk it all down to the self-store in half an hour.

My apartment is a complete mess. Every flat surface — tables, counters, bed — is strewn with orphaned knickknacks, books, papers, old clothes I should have thrown out long ago, things that weren’t valuable enough to make it into the boxes. In seven days, this apartment will be empty. The walls will be bare, the carpets cleaned, the furniture gone; just like the day I moved in, as if I had never lived here at all. Two weeks from now, someone else will live here and call it home. Someone else will own the Honda I have been driving for nine years, and they will call it theirs. Someone else will step in to fill whatever vacuum I am leaving in Portland.

Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing

I awoke last night at four AM, startled by the thought that I will be leaving in one week. In one week I will be on a plane from Seattle to Copenhagen and then another plane from Copenhagen to Tallinn, Estonia. The thought would be exhilarating if I were looking forward to a simple vacation. Knowing that I am leaving the United States for up to a year is downright scary. A thought like that can give you a jolt of adrenaline strong enough to wake you from a sound sleep.

Another recurring thought I am having is about the safety of traveling in these countries. I am told that Poland is very dangerous right now. The people are extremely poor and crime is escalating. Car theft and robbery, even highway banditry, are apparently a problem. Friends from Poland have told me that now is a bad time to go there. In Russia, newspapers report that “gangsters” are riding the overnight trains and breaking into sleeper cars to rob the passengers. Today I read that the Matyas Templom (Matthias Church), one of Budapest’s most popular tourist attractions, was bombed earlier this week. No one was hurt, but several stained glass windows and parts of the building were damaged. I am reminded, though, of the scare in Florida last year when several German tourists were killed. Florida tourism dropped sharply as most European travelers made other plans. Despite the bad publicity that Florida got in Germany, I expect that, overall, Florida is still a safe place to visit. Maybe this is a good analogy, maybe it isn’t. It is at least comforting. I will know more when I get there.

Thanks for the Memories

For the last few days I have been reading a travelogue by Evelyn and Mark Leeper, an American Jewish couple from New Jersey who document their travels so thoroughly, I find myself wondering how they still have time to see anything. This year they began their travels in the Baltic states. Their description of a few weeks in these three small countries fills nearly a hundred pages. They were kind enough to email me the Baltic portion of their travelogue. I will surely be indebted to them for their insights and their verbosity. I must also acknowledge David Loftus and his wife Carol who shared with me their pictures from a recent three-week trip to Estonia, and told me about their experiences. Their beautiful photographs have made me eager to start.

Whoops, Here It Is!

Kenn Nesbitt Ready to Go August 1, 1994. I am very tired. I can’t tell if the tiredness is from a full day of moving furniture yesterday, or if it is the emotional toll of leaving home. I am surprised at the number of people who are crying as they board the plane. They kiss their friends and relatives tearfully at the gate, clearly unhappy to be leaving. I guess I am not the only one who finds this draining. Perhaps I am naive, but I didn’t expect to feel sad about leaving.

Another surprise is the number of Internauts — presumably readers of soc.culture.baltics — who sent email to wish me well or offer helpful suggestions the last day or two before my trip. I believe there is something exaggeratory about cyberspace. In cyberspace, people have fewer inhibitions and fears about talking with complete strangers. As a result, angry, spiteful people become more outspoken and confrontational, while kind and generous people will often go out of their way to be helpful.

It’s my turn to get on the plane. The flight is now boarding and the announcer has called out my row. Now the trip begins.


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Copyright © 1994, Kenn Nesbitt

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Countdown

Portland, Oregon, July 1994. Life is too rich to watch it slip by from inside your cubicle. Your life is too important to sell it to that company you work for. You know it’s true. Do it now before it’s too late. Quit your job. Sell your car. Put your things in storage. Get a one-year plane ticket. See the world.

That was the idea.

Today is July 18, 1994. In the last two weeks I quit my job, gave up my apartment, and said goodbye to my friends. Two weeks from now I will do something truly crazy. On August 1, will board a plane bound for a country I’ve never been to. I will travel for a year and I will write about it. I will get lonely and homesick; I will smell bad and have trouble finding healthy foods; I will have difficulties that I could never predict. I will also meet wonderful people and make new friends; I will discover the best beer I have ever tasted; and, with any luck, I will find out what rewards life offers the intrepid.

Maybe I can’t convince you to quit your job. Maybe I can’t convince you to sell your car and head into the unknown. Maybe I don’t need to. After all, I’m not doing this for you. In fact, I don’t know exactly why I am doing it, except that I believe the trip will explain itself along the way.

This column is many things: it is a chronicle of my trip, it is a periodic letter to family and friends, it is souvenir to look back on when I am old, it is a catharsis. Nonetheless, it is good to have you along. Please feel welcome to join me from your living room or your cubicle, or wherever you happen to be, and live vicariously for a time.

Make a New Plan, Stan

Here’s the plan. Starting in the Baltic nation of Estonia, I will travel for a year through Eastern Europe. Though I have no itinerary, I expect to spend time in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic,Hungary and Romania. I may also see Slovakia, Bulgaria, the Ukraine and Germany. During this year, I will earn a living writing computer-related articles for a handful of trade magazines, something I have been doing in my spare time for several years now. In order to write, I am taking with me a small notebook computer — a Compaq Contura Aero — and I expect to spend a fair bit of time hunting for Internet access.

I will buy a car in Tallinn, Estonia — perhaps an old Ford or Opel or Fiat — drive it for a year, and sell it when I am done.

After a year of travel, I expect to return to Portland, Oregon, to go back to the business of leading an ordinary life. Until then, open up world, I’m climbing in!

Well, How Did I Get Here?

Before I actually get started, let me fill you in on some background. Like, who am I, why did I come up with this crazy idea, what job did I quit to do this, and what have I been doing to prepare?

My name is Kenn Nesbitt. I am an American and, like most Americans, I have spent my life blissfully ignorant of the rest of the world. I speak no foreign languages, I know very little of other cultures. And, until last year, I had never been off the North American continent.

My girlfriend at that time — an enchanting Hungarian woman — and I spent two weeks in Budapest, Hungary, and parts of Southern Germany. That was all it took. Now I’m hooked and I must see more. She enrolled in a university in Budapest for her next school year and she and I were to spend a year in Hungary. In May of this year, she and I broke up. I am still spending a year abroad. However, instead of just going to Budapest, I will travel and see a little more of the world

I am 32 years old and I make my living as a computer consultant and writer. Until two weeks ago, I worked for Microsoft Consulting Services, a division of Microsoft that helps companies develop client/server business database systems and other software. It was a very good job, as jobs go, but I still felt I was trading my life for a steady paycheck. Call it what you will: gen-X angst, a sense of immurement, or simple wanderlust. In truth, I could no longer justify the eight-to-five grind, having seen something of the richness and wonder the world has to offer. Pandora’s box is open and, since it cannot be closed, I am compelled to explore the contents.

Ready, Steady, Go!

My life is now a series of checklists. Get immunizations. Cancel telephone and electricity. Photocopy passport. Get traveler’s checks. If you’ve traveled abroad, you know what I’m talking about. Fortunately, I have help. Every travel guide has an extensive section on preparing for your trip.

I have two travel guides, both published earlier this year: ‘The Lonely Planet Survival Guide for the Baltic States’ and ‘Eastern Europe On the Loose’. They recommend, among other things, taking your own clothes line and detergent, pictures of family and friends, and plenty of Pepto Bismol. They also offer a rule of thumb: ‘take half as much luggage and twice as much money’.

What they wouldn’t know to recommend is a Radio Shack tone dialer for checking U.S. voice mail, and an acoustic coupler for using a modem on European phones. From the experience of my last trip, I am also taking, as gifts, American cigarettes (not Marlboros, which are plentiful in Eastern Europe) and Hershey bars.

Now all I have left to do is to sell my car and to finish putting everything else into storage. Trust me, this is no small task.

Gotta Get Yourself Connected

I will write this travelogue every two weeks. For those of you who are reading this as email or hardcopy or on Usenet, if you have full Internet access, fire up Mosaic or Lynx and paddle over to http://www.thegroup.net. You will find the web version of this document much fatter, with graphics and hyperlinks to web servers in each of the countries I’ve mentioned. I am posting this first column to a handful of newsgroups as well as the CompuServe travel forum just to let you know about this new www travel column. If you would like me to continue to post to a specific newsgroup or forum, or if you would like me to add you to my mailing list, please drop me a line. In the meantime, I have some packing to do. See you in two weeks!


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Copyright © 1994, Kenn Nesbitt

Kenn Nesbitt on Travel & Technology

Kenn NesbittLife is too rich to watch it slip by from inside your cubicle.“..and with those words, Kenn leads off his narrative of a break from the life of a computer consultant in Portland Oregon to explore eastern Europe. Armed with a notebook computer, a few writing assignments (including these pages) and a curiosity for culture and a new world, Kenn travels and sends back brief glimpses into his experience for us to share.[-webmaster]


Traveler’s Notebook

Note: In addition to being a series of travel essays, this also turned out to be the story of how I met my wife. I apologize for the fact that I haven’t written the “end” of the story. Someday I intend to go back and finish it, and add photos as well. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy what’s here.

Travel Map


Copyright © 1994, Kenn Nesbitt