August 2002 to December 2003, about 16 months in Central America, southern Mexico and London. I had a good time, learned a lot, and wasted an entire summer on a Caribbean island just because I could. Incredibly self-indulgent, but I'm glad I did it. I also learned another language, sort of. I never came close to fluency in Spanish, but I reached a point where I could communicate with someone who was patient with me. Unfortunately that knowledge is fading from lack of use.
Here are a few tips if you want to do the same:
Get a good guide book. Many ex-pats and people who travel the same ground repeatedly look upon guide books with contempt. Well duh....; if you spend a lot of time in a place then you don't need a guide book. And guidebooks always have some errors and omissions, but are much better than nothing. If you are not familiar with a country a good guidebook provides valuable information on the basics of getting around, staying within a budget, and traveling safely. Most of this information is in the form of tedious details that don't make for gripping reading but will help you with border crossings, find cheap transportation from the airport/train station/bus terminal to the center of town, find a decent room at a decent price, and other useful stuff. I like Lonely Planet, but of the big three; Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, and Let's Go, I recommend going with whichever was published most recently. I've also heard good things about the Moon, Footprint, and Rick Steves guides. Use your judgment. Never use a travel guide that doesn't have the tedious details and appropriate health and safety information.
Don't be an ugly American, or whatever nationality you are. Expect lots of minor annoyances, deal with them with courtesy and restraint. You'll live and some of the annoyances will make great stories.
Land border crossings are much more interesting,
inconvenient, educational, cheap, and, if you are lucky, a little
bit scary, which adds to the entertainment value. The same can
be said for the transportation the locals use, mostly buses in
Get a digital camera. I really missed mine
after it was stolen in Mexico. For clumsy amateurs like me the
trick to taking great pictures is to take lots of pictures. When
I saw something exceptionally picturesque I took many pictures
from many angles, sometimes going back later in the day to take
more pictures with different lighting. With many pictures I could
choose the few that looked best for this website. This would have
been ridiculously expensive if I had used a film camera and developed
Don't do anything stupid, a good all purpose rule of life. When traveling this primarily means keep your possessions secure, especially passport, credit cards and money, surrender your possessions without a struggle when someone with a weapon is robbing you, and do advance research so you can avoid situations where you will be robbed. Most people are good and honest, but there are slimy opportunists just waiting for a tourist to get careless. This is true everywhere.
Now I am ready to be settled and useful. Actually I've been ready for a while, I was moving slowly through Central America because changing locations every few days is a drag. And you collect more interesting stories if you stay long enough in one place to get to know some of the people.
So now I'll put together a resume, post it on the internet, then leave the country again. I'll include an e-mail address if anyone wants to contact me. Of course after six years of being a bum I may not get a job being a rocket scientist again (actually an aerospace engineer, but that sounds pretentious). But with Bachelors degrees in math and aeronautical engineering and a Masters in astronautical engineering, experience in missile and satellite testing and technical management, and a sweet disposition, I figure I should be able to find work somewhere. Hopefully interesting work in an interesting location, not necessarily inside the U.S.
While waiting for all the wonderful offers to come pouring in I plan to go somewhere where I can enter a certification program to teach English as a second language. Thailand seems to be the cheapest place to get this certification, but I haven't ruled out Czech Republic. This will keep me occupied and allow me to see if I have a talent for teaching. But if any of you want to hire an unemployed rocket scientist, send me an e-mail.
This is a bit off topic, but "Hi, I'm
a rocket scientist" is not a good opening line; women never
believed me. Just more evidence that it doesn't pay to be honest
when trying to impress women. After all, don't I look like
a rocket scientist?
That's it for now, I'll post a notice here
when my resume is ready. By the way, please let me know
if there are any problems with the webpages.