Ask anyone who's been out of college and shackled to a cubicle long enough and they'll all tell you the same thing with a shrug: The rat race sucks. The hours. The office politics. The redundant and seemingly-pointless meetings. The petty projects that come with any entry-level position. After the best four years of your life, no one wants to waste the prime years of their early 20s on a hamster wheel of endless Excel spreadsheets and 14-hour work days. So why start spinning if you don't have to?
Figuring out how to avoid office hell is almost a rite of passage right out of college. Some go to grad school. Some go to law school. Some join the Peace Corps. Some ski bum in Colorado or set out to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Some start their own businesses or go work for tech start-ups in New York or California where sipping PBR at 3 in the afternoon on a Tuesday is still acceptable, if not norm. Some take jobs as waitresses, bartenders, and baristas to start paying back student loans. Some just hang out in their parents basement watching way too much daytime television while trying to figure it all out.
Rather than taking the inevitable plunge into the post-grad job market, Jack Gray, a graduate of the University of Michigan, and Ryan Deane, the captain of the lacrosse team at Middlebury College, packed their bags and left the country. Shortly after graduating from their respective colleges, the lifelong hometown friends embarked on a 158-day trip around the world, exploring 11 countries on their own schedule. Somewhere along the way, they came down with a serious case of itchy feet.
The two chronicled their grand adventure on a blog and returned home with a fair share of epic stories. To inspire those coping with the doldrums of post-grad life, I recently exchanged e-mails with Jack about the bucket-list trip. If you're looking to take off on a half-year, jet-setting marathon of your own, here's how to do it right.
Where exactly did you go and for how long?
Peru, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, China, Nepal, an unexpected 24 layover in Qatar, Jordan, Israel, and Zambia. Imagine that you did something drastically different every day for the past 6 months and then try to describe it. The blog and video do a much better job at telling the story.
How did you decide where you were going to go?
This question is really the best place to start. The idea of the trip came from my uncle and stories of a similar trip that he took when he was young, so for years I knew that I wanted to do something like this. About four years ago I approached my friend Ryan and introduced the idea to him and pretty much told him that I needed him to join me. So probably three years ago we sat down at my place during Thanksgiving break and asked ourselves what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go and why we wanted to go there. We sat in my living room with this huge map of the world and started pointing at places. We soon decided that we were going to try to go to as many places as possible on this trip that we would have slim chances of ever getting to again, which cut Europe out of the equation. We then decided that we wanted to see as many cultures, religions, and people as possible. This helped immensely and was the mantra for our entire experience. If at any moment throughout the adventure we found ourselves amongst "old white tourists", we knew we were doing it wrong. We wanted to immerse ourselves into the cultures and get away from everything that was familiar to us. We wanted to be uncomfortable and push our personal boundaries.
Another aspect of this trip was the fact that we wanted to not only be tourists in each location, but we wanted to actively contribute and be a part of the culture. This drove us to find as many volunteering opportunities as possible in each of our locations. After years of research I had identified multiple organizations/groups to volunteer with and we pretty much approached them saying "we are two smart guys who want to contribute. We will help with you with financial consulting or we will chop wood for you and everything in between... all with a smile". By working/volunteering our way through we were able to inject ourselves into communities and networks that we would have never been able to access as tourists. As soon as we started to work, we were no longer outsiders, but rather contributors, and it makes locals way more comfortable and open to interaction.
Most dangerous experience?
One of my favorite 'O, fuck my life' moments was while we were backpacking, or "tramping" as they call it, in the backcountry of New Zealand. Being new to NZ backcountry, we thought that we were pretty stellar hikers and would do this three day trail in two days. Day One went pretty well, although it certainly was no cake walk, and we had a great night's sleep in the remote cabin, completely shut off from the world. Day Two rolls around and we know that we have a long day ahead of us to make it to the trailhead and out of the wilderness, but we are fairly confident we can do it. Four hours later we come to find out that we are lost as two dumb bastards can be and we clearly are not on the right trail. We have followed this river down this valley for miles and couldn't figure out why we weren't coming across our designated lunch spot. Five minutes into the hike that morning we turned left instead of right.
Thankfully we came across a cabin with a family heading out the drive who were nice enough to provide us with a better map and point us in the right direction. We knew our day was going to be shit when after explaining how we had gotten to their remote cabin, their facial expressions turned from confusion to genuine concern and asked us if we had enough food. That is probably the peak of the hairy situation and we pretty much were devastated emotionally. We not only had to backtrack the entire morning of hiking, but we had to complete the entirety of the original itinerary before 8 AM the following morning. If we didn't return by then, the NZ national park service would be notified and we would be deemed "dumb lost Americans."
The following eight hours of that day turned out to be the most punishing of our lives. We didn't only realize and broke through our physical barriers, but we also realized our mental barriers and tested their limits. We ended up crossing 19 rivers that day and hiking over 20 miles in exactly 11 hours, 37 minutes. With 50lbs packs, thousands of vertical feet over the most uneven trails I have ever witnessed, and wet boots, we were fucking drained. I legitimately was hearing voices from up in the hills in the last hour... It was bad. Not five minutes after the sun had set we made it to our hut safely. We immediately made soup, thanked whoever was watching over us, and fell asleep on the hardwood floor like it was a featherbed.
Looking back, we probably should have 'splurged' on the five dollar map.
This is where I want to mention the importance of picking the right travel companion. This day is something that I absolutely could not have done on my own. Without trying to sound cliché, you pretty much have to trust the guy next to you with your life. You have to trust their decision, even when you don't agree or understand, and they have to trust you. You have to know how to push them beyond their comfort zone and know how to keep their feet moving, even when all they want to do is sit and rest, which would have been a real shit-storm for us.
I almost forgot this other situation I got in: I got attacked by a spitting black cobra while I was walking to my hut one night while I was living in Zambia. I was in a group of four people walking down the path and the guy in front of me didnt even notice the massive snake sitting up, full hood out, hissing. I stopped dead in my tracks, about three feet from the snake, tried to control my bowels, and kept the two people behind me from running into the snake as well. Nobody got bit, but we assume that the snake was spitting the poison at our eyes at the time and about two more seconds would have meant a really, really bad situation for my health. That scared the hell out of me.
What was the best party scene? Any crazy international party stories?
Where ever we went, we were challenged on our drinking abilities as Americans. Let me be clear: We defended the Stars and Stripes with pride and made her proud, although for your own personal well being, I would never challenge an Australian or South African to a drinking contest. It will end poorly for all parties.
Two of the most unique party experiences that we had were in Peru and Zambia, where we went out with friends and other volunteers to the local bars and clubs in each city. We would do our best to ask around amongst the locals as to which the craziest place in the city was and we would do our best to get there by the end of the night. Admittedly, sometimes these places were terrifyingly sketchy, but they were always fun and absolutely wild.
The best actual parties that we came across were definitely in Queenstown, NZ, Byron Bay and Cairns, Australia, and Shanghai, China. In all three, everywhere we looked there were young, fun, goodlooking people from all around the world absolutely ready to throw down and rage. We did our obligatory "goon" nights in Australia and did irreparable damage to our livers, which I can only describe through this blog post. Queenstown is a great town full of a ton of bars and clubs just crawling with adventurous kids. Coming out of the backcountry and taking our first shower in Queenstown, we were excited to find that we were in good company for a night of debauchery. Any place that has a $1000 free bar tab that's only accessed by saying "I am the big bad wolf" is alright in my book. Shanghai was also just spectacular, although much more of a upscale vibe. After a little schmoozing, we found ourselves drinking with the club owner at Mint, the club that sits on top of one of the high rises overlooking all of Shanghai. That night was one of those nights that you don't quite remember, but you will never forget.