A Letter From the Road

Komo en Kasa... my favorite café in Barcelona
Komo en Kasa… my favorite café in Barcelona

 

Hey Ma,

I’ve been trying to call, but I think heaven has a crappy wifi connection.

I think you can hear me, but your voice is mostly muffled.

Sometimes I get lucky and the signal is strong and I can hear you so clearly it’s as if you’re all around me.

Those are the best days, but they don’t come often.

So I figured I’d write you a letter.

My journey has been amazing so far. Spain is beautiful. Did you know tortillas are something completely different out here? They’re like a potato omelet with eggs and onion. I ordered some tortillas at a restaurant and when the camarero brought out this thing that looked like an egg pie, I was so confused. But they’re pretty good, I think you’d like them.

Do you remember that Rage Against the Machine shirt you used to wear with Che Guevara on the front? I need to buy that shirt. Anyways, Che used to write his ma from the road too. While traveling across South America he wrote,

Querida viejita,

What do we leave behind when we cross a frontier? Everything seems split in two. Melancholy for what is left behind, and the excitement of entering a new land.

I can relate to the dichotomy, and it made me think of you. I experience things out here and the only person that would be excited to hear them is you. The road can be lonely. But so can life.

Travelling is very much like life. I anticipate the unknown with enthusiasm, the crisp unwritten page of a new day. But my soul also yearns for the comfort and familiarity of yesterday. I cling to sweet memories of days I can never relive. Days when I could pick up the phone and hear your voice. When I could tell you about my day or take you out for coffee. Remember when that waiter thought we were a couple? You were so happy because he thought you were my age. I thought it was pretty weird.

I travel through space and time as I travel the world. My mind lives in the present, my heart beats in the past. A modern day Doc Brown, without the DeLorean. The closest thing we had was your strawberry Dodge Neon that you used to let me and my brothers drive. The radiator was shot and it would overheat in the Arizona sun, so we could only drive it at night. The Night Rider. I don’t think she could hit 88, not even on her best day.

I love my new surroundings. The sounds, the tastes, the people. I walk the Spanish streets with eyes wide open and a smile on my face. I found a cool little café that I know you’d love. I sit on the window sill and write in the afternoon sun.

There is so much to see in Barcelona, but when the rush of fresh stimuli subsides, my gaze always drifts to the West.

Home calls.

And sometimes I wonder…where is home? When was home?

Home is in the past. No Neon or DeLorean can take me there. So I’ll stay on the road for a while longer.

My Spanish is getting better Ma, and I’ve been making it to mass every Sunday. I think you’d be proud.

I’ve also been thinking that you would have wanted me to go to Mexico and visit the Basilica de La Virgencita. I’ll try my best. I saw a stained glass window of her in an old Spanish cathedral the other day. The rays of the setting sun illuminated her cloak and she was beautiful.

Well, it’s time to run Ma. I’m off to meet some friends for tapas.

Love you,

Aaron

 

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Barcelona or Bust

Forca Barca!
Forca Barca!

 

Barcelona.

This is the city.

The catalyst. The motivating force that pushed me through moments of doubt and fear as I plotted my escape from my comfortable office job.

No other word encapsulates the romantic notions that my subconscious mind associates with the Spanish culture more than “Barcelona.”

Say it with me.

Lisp that “c” if you’re really into it. “Barth-elona.”

There you go.

After a spontaneous pit stop in California to surprise a certain gal for the holidays (smooth right?), I made it back to Europe, happy and five pounds heavier after two weeks of stuffing my face with tamales and prime rib. Seriously, I think that’s all I ate the entire time I was back home. And tacos. There is always room for tacos.

Tacos.

Now it’s back to Spain where I have assumed a role working in the Public Relations department for a prominent hostel near the University of Barcelona.

Translation: Me and three other lucky bastards get to live in a great city for free and meet cool people and basically all we have to do is get the party started every night. We work from 9 to 12, five nights a week and arrange activities for the guests. Last night, for example, was karaoke night. The PR team facilitates and socializes, all while trying to sign up guests for our “party bus” to the touristy beach clubs of the Barcenoleta. Once we get the guests on the bus, we are free once again until 9pm the following evening. Not a bad gig right? The schedule is perfect, leaving us the entire day to explore the city.

So far I’m two for two with the Workaway experiences.

Over the past month I’ve received messages from a few people who read my posts and have become inspired to make some changes in their life.

“Seeing the stuff you post makes me want to quit my job and travel. Really inspiring stuff.”

or

“I’ve been at my job for eight years and I fuckin’ hate it bro. I think about quitting everyday… Any suggestions?”

Their souls itch to break the chains of monotony. To make the jump and risk failing miserably.  I cannot express the feelings of gratitude and humility that overwhelm me when I receive those kind of messages. I haven’t done much. I was just fortunate enough to realize that if I didn’t make a move my life was going to pass me by in an instant. So I jumped. But we all know what it feels like to freeze. To look over the edge and start the countdown… three… two…. one… never mind.

Humans generally don’t like change, change is scary. Most of us thrive off of routine and the familiar. Our minds try and avoid it all costs, instinctively firing off self justifications and rationalizations like Bill Cosby throws out the Roofies. And Cosby don’t miss. So if you’re thinking about making some big changes in your life and don’t have a ‘Barcelona’… get one. Visualize your goal. Whether it’s you welcoming your first guest at that restaurant you’ve been dreaming about opening, or hiking your final mile on the Pacific Crest Trail. Keep your eyes on the prize. And let me tell ya, it feels pretty damn good to get there.

Our PR team is so outdoorsy. (we definitely got lost on this 2 mile hike)
Our PR team is so outdoorsy. (we definitely got lost on this 2 mile hike)

DCIM101GOPRO

 

 

The Sunny Side

For the record, this egg is not over easy, it's sunny side up. I just learned the difference, but the Sunny Side sound good so I'm stickin' with it.
For the record, this egg is not over easy, it’s sunny side up. I just learned the difference, but the Sunny Side sound good so I’m stickin’ with it.

 

I’ve done it.

The odds were heavily stacked against me.

People said it was impossible, that I was wasting my time.

But I shrugged the “haters” off and used their negativity as motivation. Every morning I’d try, and fail, but return the next day with a new sense of optimism and determination. My father’s mantra looping in my head as I focused on the task at hand, “perseverance through adversity son, perseverance through adversity.”

This morning, on the fourth day of December, in the year of our Lord 2015, I finally succeeded in cooking two, not one but two, beautiful and completely intact over easy eggs.

Now, some of you may scoff at this feat.

You could be thinking, “My eight year old daughter can make over easy eggs, dude.”

You might even be laughing as you read this. But trust me, there’s nothing funny about preparing the perfect breakfast sandwich every morning, fully equipped with the finest of ingredients: freshly baked whole grain bread, organic tomatoes and spinach from the local market, a thick slice of gouda cheese and savory pieces of world-famous Spanish ham, Jamon Iberico. Only to fail miserably with the piece de resistance and pop the damn yolks in the crappy hostel frying pan.

No amount of olive oil or butter can make the pans in any hostel “non-stick.”

The pans are beat up and tired, any trace of Teflon scraped away long ago by the backpackers of yesteryear.

The deplorable condition of cooking surfaces in hostels makes runny egg-yolks a much desired commodity. A mirage in the desert that can never be reached. But this morning I did it. When I bit into my sandwich the rich yolks exploded into my mouth and dripped onto my plate, like puddles of liquid gold.

A moment I shall never forget.

The lesson is simple friends: Never give up, never surrender.

Or… if you like over easy eggs and have the room in your backpack, bring a small non-stick frying pan.

 

The man, the myth, the legend.
The man, the myth, the legend.

 

Pomegranate Paradise

 

Holy shit.

I joined a gym in Spain.

The act in itself is not very impressive, anyone with twenty euros can join my crappy little gym. However, that orange I.D. card with my overly-excited face on the front signifies something pretty cool.

It means that, for at least a month (I’ll be here much longer but was too cheap to spring for the three month sign up special), Spain will be my home. After such a whirlwind kickoff to my trip, it feels great to settle down and begin a bit of a routine.

I arrived in Granada two weeks ago, the Spanish word for “pomegranate” and a beautiful city in southern Spain with a rich history. As evidenced by its beautiful architecture, Granada has a heavy Moorish influence and was the last foothold of Islam in Western Europe. In 1492, Christian forces led by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand expelled the Moors from Granada and completed the 700 year Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula. In the same year, Columbus came to Santa Fe, a small village a few miles from the center of town, to meet with the Catholic Kings and solidify the terms of his infamous voyage across the Atlantic. Like I said… a rich history.

Alhambra
Alhambra means “the red one,” it’s easy to see why.
Alhambra Garden.png
The gardens of La Alhambra are vast and breathtaking.

 

Resting in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Granada has an arid climate that fluctuates drastically. If you’re on the sunny side of the street(there is ALWAYS a sunny side) during the day, it’s quite nice. But as the sun dips below the horizon the warm air leaves as quickly as it came and the nighttime temps flirt with the freezing line. For this guy from coastal Southern California, it’s pretty damn cold. Begrudgingly, I had to take advantage of the Black Friday sales and buy a new coat. Tracking down a whole turkey to roast for Thanksgiving was impossible here, but I couldn’t walk half a block without seeing a huge Black Friday sale sign in a storefront window. I guess our consumerist holidays are more profitable to import.

And yes, they have Sierra Nevada mountains here too, no Yosemite or Half Dome though. But they do have tapas, and the best part is… they’re free! You just have to order a beer, or in my case, a soda, and voila, all-you-can-eat appetizers. Drinks cost less than two euro and you don’t even have to tip. Did I mention that you can rent out a one bedroom apartment for less than 300 euro a month? This place has Aaron written all over it.

So here I am in Granada, freezing my ass off while spending almost no money and settling into my first Workaway experience. I’m working and living in a hostel slash English school slash yoga studio called Itinere. The hostel is owned and operated by a sister-brother duo, Sayano and Takashi, who are half Japanese, half Spanish, and some of the nicest people I´ve met on my journey thus far. Their business definitely has an intimate and much welcomed family feel. I work about 20 hours a week teaching English, working in the reception area and sharing cleaning duties with my fellow Workawayers. In two weeks I´ve managed to get assigned just one cleaning shift and have yet to touch a toilet brush, ha! So much for Scrubbing Toilets and Stamping Passports. Annnnnnd now I’ve most certainly jinxed myself and will be cleaning rooms all week, damn it. (Update: obviously,  I got scheduled three cleaning shifts next week).

Cleaning aside, it has been an amazing experience forming bonds with the other Workawayers that I live with. Our dormitory is like a United Nations committee with representatives hailing from South Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, England and of course the great state of California. Isolation from our respective homes, families, friends and familiarities has brought us together in a very short period of time. My Itinere family even chipped in and helped me cook a proper Thanksgiving dinner! Like I said, there were no turkeys to be had, so we settled for two roasted chickens.

Chicken
Master of ceremonies: Carving the scrawny birds

Above all, I have enjoyed teaching English. I’ve learned so much about the people and culture of Andalucía by simply chopping it up with my students. They tell me about their lives and their families and the food they eat, they ask a million questions about California and they make fun of my Mexican Spanish. They explained how the economic troubles in Spain have driven many to pursue higher education while the economy sorts itself out. The public University of Granada, a well respected and very affordable school, is bursting at the seams with over 80,000 students enrolled in its various colleges. Most of my students work part time jobs, take classes all day and come to learn English in the evenings of their own volition. Talk about a long day. They earn those siestas, trust me. My students’ hunger to educate themselves and improve their lives is both admirable and contagious.

When planning my trip, I nearly bypassed Granada entirely, preferring to head straight for Barcelona, a city I already knew and loved. But sometimes our journey seems to plan itself, favoring the path less traveled, and I’m learning that it’s usually best to let it evolve as it pleases. It can be a little scary rolling the dice on an unknown place, but the juice is often worth the squeeze. And this pomegranate juice is really sweet.

Pomegranate
Granada is the Spanish word for pomegranate. The trees are everywhere you look in the beautiful city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City of Light

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Paris.

I had an entire post written about it.

I strung together words about the welcoming people I met and places I visited in the city by the Seine.

I wrote about the art and the cathedrals and the sculptures.

I  described the details of my enchanting evening in Saint-Germain. I wrote about the dinner I shared with new friends. The ambiance was palpable; the conversation, the food, the music… a night I shall never forget. I even got all poetic and whipped out my iPhone during dinner and typed a note about how I felt the ghost of Hemingway swirl around me in the cigarette smoke.

Corny iPhone writing aside, I fell in love with Paris that night.

I also wrote about the warnings I received back in the States before leaving for France.

The French hate Americans.

Parisians are rude.

Pretentious. Stuffy. Arrogant.

Tell them you’re from Canada.

I listened to the warnings and stored them in their proper place, the little file in my brain called “People Are Entitled to Their Opinions, Now Go Out and Form Your Own, Guy.”

But that all changed. No need to make up that complicated story about how my Mexican parents immigrated to Vancouver when I was a baby.

Now, most of my friends on Facebook have a Blue, White and Red filter over their profile pictures. Slacktivism at its finest. But who can blame them? We can all relate to the suffering caused by the senseless atrocities committed on the evening of November 13th. For Americans, the feelings were all too familiar. The disbelief and shock, the tension endured as we waited for news of another attack to break on our television sets.

I was lucky. I boarded a plane to Morocco the evening before 129 innocent people were slain in the coordinated attacks. My hostel, in the heart of Gare du Nord, was a five minute walk from the restaurant La Petit Cambodge, where fourteen people lost their lives. A new friend, Pauline (Popo to her inner circle), a vivacious Parisian with a personality that dwarfs the Eiffel Tower, was at the Stad de France with her boyfriend when the bombs went off. I feared the worst when I first heard the news. I relay my proximity to the massacres of Friday the 13th not for sympathy or some twisted badge of honor. I simply want to explain that I was deeply troubled by the events that place that night. I had friends there. I was worried and scared and disgusted.

Ironically, I found myself in the middle of a very Muslim nation, albeit a very liberal region, when the world first learned of what was going on in Paris. As you can imagine, the warnings from back home quickly changed tune. Anti-Muslim rhetoric flooded my social media accounts at a remarkable pace. People I respect and love wrote words filled with hate, fear and anger the obvious motivators of their prejudice. Once again, I was disgusted.

This site is not meant to be a political or religious platform. It was created as a space to collect my thoughts and experiences as I travel. A place for family and friends to be entertained by my words. To inspire a laugh and perhaps plant a seed of motivation for others to venture out and gain their own perspectives. The lens in which we view others, others being different societies and their respective cultures and customs, should be calibrated through our own personal experiences. This is the aim of my journey.

I have not been on the road for long. But I have been abroad long enough to gather that most humans are strikingly similar. Regardless of creed or nationality, gender or social standing, most people simply want to be happy. Through random acts of violence, terrorists aim to propagate fear and hatred.  They aim to divide us through our self-righteous reactions and emotions. When we help them spread their hate, they win.

If, Antoine Leiris, a man who lost his wife on that fateful night can refuse to hate, so can we. I’ll leave you with his words:

YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY HATRED

Friday night, you took an exceptional life — the love of my life, the mother of my son — but you will not have my hatred. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife would have been one more wound in his heart.

So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You’re asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost. 

I saw her this morning. Finally, after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago. Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short-lived. I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves again in this paradise of free love to which you have no access.

We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don’t have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.

 

 

 

Lift Off

Annnnnd I’m off!

This post comes to you from the land of fog, black tea and Yorkshire Pudding, which I recently discovered isn’t pudding at all.

‘ello London!

My first foray in Europe landed me in Heathrow Airport on a dreary April morning. As the sun rose, I peered out of the enormous airport window in the direction of London, I could sense the great Western city on the horizon. So close. I’ll be back, I thought.

I was right.

As I hopped on the train from Gatwick to London proper yesterday, I felt like Harry Potter on his way to Hogwarts. Embarrassing, I know. To my dismay they did not hand out any Chocolate Frogs or Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

So here’s the plan:

3 days in London

3 days in Paris

3 days in Morocco for a surfing safari

After Morocco I fly to Granada, Spain for my first Workaway experience.

I plan to spend a month in Granada and then it’s back to the UK where I have been invited to pass the holidays with my friend and his family in Scotland.

I will be accompanied by Sir Fraser O’Neil of Scotland for the first leg of my trip. Fraz is a great friend from high school, more of a brother really. Fraser was a regular guest in our family home and practically lived in our living room for months at a time. Fortunately for him, my mother always loved the guy, entitling him to unlimited stay on our couch and an all-you-can-eat-pass in her kitchen. Our fraternal bond is personified by a derogatory banter that can prove a bit much for the unacquainted pedestrian.

Example:

After getting lost in the city for hours in search of me and our hostel, Fraser burst into the room, bags in hand, and exclaimed,

“There’s my bloody Wetback! How the hell are ya brother!!?”

“Oh Jesus!” shrieked Chris, a mellow backpacker hailing from Canada that had been napping on his top bunk and apparently wasn’t used to be woken by such blatant racial slurs.

Let the adventures begin.

PS: I lied to you, this post actually comes to you from Paris, France. I have been here for only 24 hours but the City of Lights has been quite impressive thus far. More to come….

 

 

DCIM101GOPRO
DCIM101GOPRO

 

Blue Mournings

When I opened my eyes yesterday morning my insides hurt.

My body ached from head to toe.

I like felt I had just went three rounds in the octagon with Ronda Rousey.

Nausea was a loyal companion all day long, never leaving my side like some damn golden retriever.

I sat glued to the couch for hours watching the Major League Baseball Network, forcing myself to relive the painful details of the season’s final game, over and over and over, as if changing the station meant admitting the season was really over.

Even the weather reflected my grief. A blanket of dark clouds hung low in mourning, blocking the sun, as a cool breeze blew through Los Angeles for the first time in weeks.

God must be a Dodger fan.

Yes, I know… this is a travel blog.

But this blog is also about my mission to live with zeal and passion. Like I’ve said before, the Gap is about “squeezing the juice out of life… every last fucking drop,” and nothing gets my juices flowing like Dodger Baseball.

It may sound silly to you. It’s just a game, you might be thinking. Not for me, not for my family. Baseball, and the Dodgers in particular, bring memories of sweet experiences shared with loved ones. For a group of Angelenos living in the desert of Arizona, the Dodgers became an identity. When I hear the famed broadcaster Vin Scully’s voice, my chest fills with warmth.

You can read more about my love for the Dodgers here: Viva Los Doyers!

So before I made the life altering decision to quit my job and book a one-way ticket to Europe I had to check one thing:  Major League Baseball’s postseason schedule. The November 5th departure date was no coincidence. If the Dodgers would have advanced to the World Series, the last possible game, Game Seven, would have been played on November 4th. I could think of no better send off then witnessing a World Series victory with my brothers and loved ones. The elation would be so great I wouldn’t even need a plane ticket, I would just point my fist in the air and fly off to London like Superman with a Dodger Blue cape.

But the Dodgers lost and I can’t fly.

Even as I sit here, brooding in the darkness of defeat, I am pleased with my decision. I mean, just look at this picture of my brother and at Dodger Stadium for what would prove to be the last game of the season, our level of excitement oozing from the pixels:

 

Mexican Greinkes

 

For three hours Chavez Ravine rocked with emotion. As the game swayed like a pendulum, we cheered in moments of  triumph and prayed to the heavens when all seemed lost, searching for hope in the bats of our diamond heroes.

When our fate was sealed we walked through the parking lot like wandering zombies, hardly exchanging a word.

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about. No, not the zombie apocalypse, the ride. The memories of loss are as vivid as the memories of victory, and I’ll forever recall the day my brother and I went blonde for the Doyers.

Not a bad look right?

There’s always next year. But until then… I think I’ll do a little traveling.

The Breakfast of Raymond K Hessel

I quit my job yesterday.

No, Brad Pitt did not hold a gun to my head and make me do it.

But my first day of liberty was amazing and he was right about my breakfast.

Every morning I start my day with a tall glass of lime water. They say it’s a great way to boost immunity, aid digestion and hydrate your body first thing in the morning. Normally I gulp down the tart tonic, bottoms up, as quickly as possible. But today, unemployed with nowhere to be, I thought, “what’s the rush?”  I inhaled deeply,  filling my nostrils  with the sweet smell of citrus. I tipped back the glass and savored every sensation, chewing the pulp as it entered my mouth. I licked my lips and smiled. I felt like my tonic tasted; fresh, rejuvenated.

To be honest, my oatmeal wasn’t that good this morning but I really wanted to use that Fight Club video so let’s just pretend it was spectacular. I ran out of milk and had to use water, gross. Mexicans love milk in their oatmeal. I once did a survey to verify my hunch. Sure enough, the results in my very official study (which consisted of me going around asking random people “how do you like your oatmeal?”) showed that most Mexicans use milk and Caucasians generally use water. But I digress.

The point is that I have officially started my journey. The Rat Race is in the rearview and it’s time for me to slow down and chew the pulp. I even did a little meditation after eating my mediocre oatmeal. I never thought it would feel so good to be unemployed. Time to start packing!

Scrubbing Toilets and Stamping Passports

I feel your pain sister.
I feel your pain sister.

 

How often do you scrub your toilet?

I hardly ever do.

Something about that little toilet brush just grosses me out.

The poor guy lives behind my toilet, sitting there all day, just waiting to get dipped in poopy water.

No thanks.

Luckily, my roommate doesn’t seem to mind using him.

But what if grabbing that little poop stick and scrubbing my Mexican heart away had larger implications? What if cleaning toilets meant I could live in places like Barcelona or Bali or Rio de Janeiro for close to nothing? Well then pass the latex gloves and prepare your bum for some clean porcelain my foreign friends, I’m about to get down in the bathroom.

And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

Hopefully the toilet scrubbing will be minimal, but I’m prepared for anything.

Workway.info is a website that connects individuals with families and facilities that are interested in hosting work volunteers in exchange for room and board. Since hosts are not technically paying their volunteers, no work visas are required. There are tens of thousands of workaway hosts hailing from every region of the world. Each host offers a unique experience based on their needs, here are some examples of hosts I’ve come across in the last few months:

  • A surf camp/hostel in Peru in need of a bartender
  • A family in Barcelona looking for an au pair to assist with their two young (and adorable) daughters
  • Another surf camp in the Spanish Canary Islands in need of a surf instructor and social media guru
  • A hotel on the Greek island of Aegina searching for a receptionist
  • A hostel in Thailand requiring the services of an English instructor
  • An olive farm in Italy searching for extra hands during the harvest

As you can see, the work is varied and the opportunities are endless. Most hosts offer a room and at least one meal a day in exchange for 20 -25 hours of work per week. The rest of the time is yours. Not only are you saving loads of money on lodging and food(the most costly expenses while traveling), but workways offer the opportunity to make connections with your hosts and experience the true essence of your destination. Most travelers on vacation rarely stray off the beaten tourist paths. In return, they pay high dollar for fancy hotels, tours and watered down experiences.

So you’re not making any money?

You can imagine how many times I’ve heard that one. No, I will not be getting paid. But utilizing workaways throughout my travels will allow me to optimize my savings and have experiences I could have never dreamed of back in the States. Take my friend Jessica for example, she quit her job in Los Angeles back in June, jumped on a plane and has been workawaying her way across Europe. You should see the girl’s Facebook page. So far she’s worked on an alpaca farm in France, spent five weeks on a Greek island working in a hotel, visited Paris and Barcelona and is currently building houses out of straw and clay in Romania. Her next stop will be in Mexico when Dos Equis hires her as the Most Interesting Woman in the World. Okay, I made that last one up but I’m sure she’ll be doing something awesome.

Keep your eyes peeled Jessica, I’m coming right behind you.

 

Pinch Your Pennies

I am a cheapskate.

Everyone knows it.

In Spanish, someone who is notoriously stingy with their money is often called a codo.

Codo also happens to be the Spanish word for elbow.

Every time my grandfather sees me the jerk points at his elbow and laughs.

I'm going to send my grandpa a post card when I get to Greece. The back will read:
I’m going to send my grandpa a postcard when I get to Greece, the back will read: “Who’s laughing now old man?”

But hey, I’ll take some good-natured ribbing from my abuelito if it means I get to stay abroad for an extra month or two.

Once I committed to my trip, in an effort to save as much money possible, I took my thriftiness to new heights, or lows, by utilizing three steps outlined in Rolf Potts’ book, Vagabonding.

Step One: Stop Expansion

There’s nothing like a new pair of shoes. Put some new Oxfords on my feet and I’ll be whistling all day, feeling like the Mexican Don Draper. But dress shoes aren’t cheap my friends, and I already have four pair under my bed. Insert step one. I had to stop adding to the collection of things I already owned, and in most cases, neglected. I had a closet full of clothes and shoes I never wore. According to my last count, I own 37 hats. THIRTY SEVEN. Once I had that embarrassing number in my head, it was slightly easier to tell myself, “No, Aaron. You do not need that new snapback.”

I think I need a new surf board. Nope.

Those jeans are nice, you don’t have that shade of denim. Forget about it.

I was amazed at how much extra money I was able to put into my savings account when I stopped making unnecessary purchases. The next step on Mr. Potts’  list escalates the intensity of frugality, and has proven the most difficult initiative for me to stick by…

Step Two: Rein in Your Routine

A tightwad by nature, refraining from spending hundreds of dollars on new stuff was relatively easy. I’ve always been one who preferred to use my dollars on experiences rather than physical objects. Consequently, the pain of the rein became noticeable when I was forced to make sacrifices in my routines and social life. I gave myself a daily food allowance and tried to stick to it, by any means necessary. Suddenly, I was declining dinner invitations from friends.  If I did go, I’d make sure to eat at home first and stick to the appetizer menu. I even brought a Subway sandwich to a restaurant after convincing myself that if I did this every week I’d save hundreds of dollars before leaving to Europe. I don’t think I’ll ever live that one down.

Bi-weekly haircuts became monthly cuts. Movies? If it wasn’t on NetFlix, I wasn’t seeing it. When the music festival season came around, it seemed like all of my favorite bands were playing every weekend and all of my friends had tickets.

Florence and the Machine, Chet Faker AND the Black Keys? I get it… they rocked last night. Yes, I watched your 260 second SnapChat story… dick.

But before I became a total Scrooge and got a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past, I reminded myself of the end goal. Traveling takes money, and saving money takes sacrifice. Altering your lifestyle is not an easy endeavor, but small adjustments can pay large dividends.

Step Three: Reduce Clutter

When I pulled into the parking lot of the police station my heart was racing. I was almost certain that no one had followed me, but I scanned the area for suspicious vehicles just in case. This is the last time I sell anything on Craigslist, I thought.

“Robert” seemed normal enough during our first phone conversation. We scheduled a time and location for him to come and see the first item of clutter I had elected to sell… my 100th Anniversary Harley Davidson. When Robert called me the next day to confirm the meeting, it was from a different number. Red flag.

Robert pulled up to the restaurant parking lot thirty minutes late in a black Chevy Tahoe that had no license plates. He seemed nervous and his knowledge about motorcycles was almost non-existent. He circled the bike, took a blurry picture of the fuel tank and never even asked to hear the engine. The red flags were flying like a Mexico vs. USA World Cup match.

“I love the bike bro, I want it. Can I give you a deposit now and bring the rest of the cash tomorrow when I pick it up?”

“Sure man, sounds good.” As soon as I heard the words leave my mouth I regretted them, but I’ve always been a sucker for crisp, hundred dollar bills.

Damn-it. 

I couldn’t figure out the hustle, but I knew this dude was going to try and make my bike his for the seven hundred dollar deposit. I called my Dad the next morning and told him the story.

“Why would you take that deposit?” He prodded.

Salt in the wound. As my old man was making me feel like a ten year old, a text came through from Robert the Scammer, “Hey Aaron. I have to work late tonight, so I was thinking you could drop the bike off here and I’ll get you a ride home. Don’t worry, I have the money all ready for you.” Shit. So his scam is murder. Awesome.

But I didn’t want to die and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let some cholo run off with my travel money, so my pops and I devised a plan and I text Robert a response, “Hey Robert, I won’t be able to drop the bike off to you. I have to meet my Dad to grab the title. He works in Huntington Beach as a police officer (lie). I was planning to have you meet me at the station after his shift and he can give me a lift home.” Boom.

Six hours went by without a response. Maybe he’ll cut his losses and reward me the seven hundred for outsmarting him. A hustler’s tip of the cap, I thought. Just as I was basking in the glory of my newly found street knowledge, good ol’ Bobby threw me a curve ball and replied, “Okay sounds good, just send me the address.”

When Robert showed up to the police station with a backpack full of small bills, I was ready for anything. As I counted the money, my eyes scanned the bushes nearby, ready for an ambush. “You’re fine,” whispered my dad, “just make sure it’s all there.” It was. I handed over the keys and watched Robert’s friend ride away on my beloved Harley. Much ado about nothing.

In hindsight, I’ve realized that selling an expensive vehicle in a parking lot to a guy from the internet was not the best idea, but I certainly let my paranoia run wild. Perhaps the paranoia was a manifestation of my reluctance to part with the material things in my life. The last charge of consumerism that courses through my American veins.

I loved that bike, but not as much as I think I did.

In his writings about Minimalism, Mark Manson describes the psychological phenomenon known as loss aversion, wherein, “humans feel the pain of losing something to be much greater than the pleasure of having it.”

Over a span of three years, I rode my Harley a grand total of two thousand miles. Translation: a few rides a month down Pacific Coast Highway. I had to pull the bike out once a month just to clean the dust off. But when I took my bike out for one last spin down the coast, I was suddenly Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy. The chrome pipes glistened in the California sun and the engine sounded better than it ever had. What was I thinking? I needed this Harley, it was part of who I was.

Identities are quickly formed around the things we own. Naturally, reducing the things I own has caused some discomfort… even pain. But the feeling is also freeing. In two months time I’ll be boarding a plane with everything I need strapped to my back. No anchors, no clutter.

I’m off to see what I can do about those thirty seven hats.

This is an actual picture of me riding my bike for the last time
This is an actual picture of me riding my bike for the last time