Updated: Jun 29, 2020
| This is the 305th story of Our Life Logs |
There was little to worry about in the quiet heartlands of the American Midwest. I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1990, maturing in a stable suburban environment, my first memories made on the playground. Besides what lay in front of me, nothing else seemed to matter much.
Well, that was until I was around the age of 5, I remember my mother introducing me to another boy named Brian. As silly as it sounds, I had assumed I was the only one called Brian. This frightened and excited me to no end back then. And just like that, something mattered. I wanted to know just how big the world truly was. I wanted to find the people in it who were just like me.
Somewhere in my teens, I remember my mother asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Brian?”
“I want to live all over the world. Eventually, I’ll be a strapping young man and so I should be able to find work to do anywhere.”
She thought I was high for seriously using the word strapping. I wasn’t.
As my older siblings did before me, I attended the University of Arkansas. There, I studied English and Latin and daydreamed of following my writing heroes with their sweeping adventures around the world someday.
Though, as graduation inched closer, the more absurd it all seemed. And to add to that doubt, I was told that people don’t just do that if they want to survive as an adult.
After college, I was offered a full-time position at a small outdoor clothing company. The work of operations and logistics were far cries from my passions, but the job market at that time was still a struggle for everyone. I was just happy to be on any boat that would keep me treading financial waters, determined to not become the cliché English major who cannot find work.
As each year ticked by, writing and travel became more hobbies than habits. By most metrics, though, I had a happy life. I could not walk down the street of my southern college town without seeing a familiar and warm face. I worked with dear friends and family. It was a good life, and I was comfortable.
Yet deep down, I could not deny that something was missing, and this manifested itself in negative ways. Over the years, my life became splashed with resentment, frustration, and an unhealthy relationship with alcohol to wash it all down. I struggled with issues of identity, upset at outside forces for defining me, but more so at myself for failing to ever do so properly. It was a bit like wearing a gifted shirt that did not quite fit but trying to convince myself it would break in with time. It wasn’t what I would ever choose for myself, but I told myself that I was just happy to have a shirt…for the time being.
Eventually, the outdoor clothing company I worked for underwent a bitter internal upheaval between owners. This caused over half of the employees to either quit or become laid off. I was part of the latter. My brother and many friends planned to scatter across the country by the end of the year. To make matters worse, within a few weeks my romantic relationship, which mere months ago seemed to be without a ceiling, fell apart as well.
The expected dark period ensued, rife with empty boxes of wine, whole days spent in a bathrobe, and more cigarettes than I care to recount.
After wallowing for a few weeks though, the uncertainty and sadness morphed into a strange sense of freedom and determination. I decided to revive my dusty hopes and dreams that had been locked away for over a decade. I decided to travel indefinitely until I had circled the world. I would go without a set itinerary or goal aside from the road itself. There was people to meet and thousands of places to see. I was unfettered as never before.
Maps transformed from dry lines and words into palpable futures as I threw all of my being into my breaking orbit from my old life. I sold most of my possessions and scraped enough together to stretch me through a skinny year. I worked out twice a day so I could sleep at night without external aid, the thoughts of my recent troubles made it difficult otherwise. I read and researched all I could get my hands on regarding prolonged solo travel. For if I was to become a vagabond, then I would be the most well informed and equipped one possible.
When people asked me what my plan was, I told them that I felt like this was my shot. No one needed me anywhere, so in theory, I could go everywhere. Some friends understood, others mentioned how perhaps this was all an overreaction, and maybe just a new city or job would be sufficient to shake me out of my funk, that a more prudent man would use his savings to smoothly transition into another professional field or city. Maybe. Maybe not.
Regardless, I had the idea lodged deep in my brain. I had whittled my life down to 55 liters, picked east as my direction, and there was no turning me back.
In 2018, I began my adventure. And just as I had hoped decades before, I passed through all kinds of places, volunteering my time and energy in exchange for unique opportunities. A bookstore in Paris, a summer camp in Romania, a paragliding center in India, it turns out the world has no shortages of adventures for those who put themselves in the right place at the right time. For a while, that was all I needed.
I learned to sleep on a bumpy bus like a baby and hike at dawn for hours with the best of them, but that’s not to say it has been perfect. Seeing pictures and videos of my friends and family back home makes my jaw tremble a bit. I’ve missed weddings, friends having children I’ve never seen, and I watch as others progress their lives in ways not possible for my own right now. Before you know it, most contact with those back home fizzles down to a few sporadic text exchanges, and only the closest friends and family make the effort to truly stay in touch. It’s more than understandable as they have their own lives to live, and you are no longer in the thick of it.
I thought that the world would get smaller the more I traveled, that I would eventually have a good grasp on things and then be ready to come home and settle down with my great adventure now in the books. If anything, the inverse is true, I reach one place then learn of three more places that I must see next. There is no end to the cycle.
The most important aspects of the journey have had very little to do with any physical place. You get a real look at yourself, the one that exists in the vacuum between them all, and the answer isn’t always what you expect. It’s far too easy here to fall into travel clichés about mystical sounding epiphanies gained from foreign lands, but I will just say that travel has undoubtedly given me a clearer understanding of who I am and what I want in life.
It’s been anything but a direct path from the playground to where I’m at now, but I really do believe this is where I’m meant to be. Some days I feel hopelessly small, alone, and adrift, but by the next, I’m a world beater whose words are finally starting to be in sync with his actions.
I’ve met many other Brians on the trip and butchered the pronunciation of numerous new names I never knew before leaving home. The world is far larger than I could have ever imagined and filled with characters of almost limitless inspiration. With determination and a little luck, I’ll inch ever closer to that best version of myself, a person and path consciously created by my own choices.
This is the story of Brian O’Dea
Brian grew up in Oklahoma but currently resides in Da Nang, Vietnam. As a child, Brian had dreams of seeing the world and what it has to offer by traveling and writing like his heroes. He soon learned that doing so would be more difficult than he thought and settled into a job he didn’t truly love. It wasn’t until he was laid off from his job that he decided to take the opportunity to finally travel as he’d always dreamed. Brian has been traveling around the world since January of 2018. Along the way, he works as a freelance writer, and in various odd jobs as they arise on the road. By pursuing this unorthodox path, he continues to inch ever closer towards his geographic and creative goals.
This story first touched our hearts on March 20, 2019.
| Writer: Brian O’Dea | Editor: Colleen Walker |