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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