Three Months

It’s been a minute.

In so many ways, I’ve just begun.

Three months is how long one can have a “Tourist Visa” for the Schengen Area, the territory made up of 26 European states (including Spain) that have a common visa policy. Everything after that is, well, just life.

Fly by night

I have been in Madrid just over three months. I am still a visitor.

I’m surrounded by Americans here. My three roommates are all from the States, as are most of the people I associate with on a day-to-day basis. My situation is unique among the group because I am the only one not enrolled in the language school, and thus lack those direct connections and gateways into the wider culture here.

Admittedly, it’s made things difficult.

I never had any illusions. Moving to Spain was always going to be more difficult than any of my 10 US moves for one obvious reason: I don’t speak the language. Every challenge associated with relocating is amplified by that deficiency. Which, of course, is the point. Each challenge should be harder than the one that came before, otherwise, there’s no growth. 


I am on my own.

As I said, I have a group of Americans around me, and I’m grateful for their company. We spent Thanksgiving together, traveled to Toledo as a group, and have enjoyed a wide range of activities, both Spanish and otherwise, including photo shoots, dance classes, and bar hopping. Like so many other cities before Madrid, I have landed within the comforting fold of a collective.

But after my many years on the road, I’m acutely aware of the solitude inherent to my life. Carpool lanes don’t exist on this highway.

Under the Bridge

I scan through a lot of travel blogs and social media posts by people who have moved to another country. A common trope across almost all of these mediums is the grandiose self-examination, the “What have I learned so far?” post. 

I get it. Not only are we a species prone to taking stock of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going, but our friends and family are always asking us about all that David Copperfield kind of crap. Why move across an ocean if you aren’t going to learn new things about the world and yourself?

So, here’s some knowledge: Mahou, the name of a ubiquitous beer in Madrid, is one syllable and rhymes with “wow.”


Something else? Well, hm, a euro or two is sufficient tip for a full meal.

Still more? I’d rather not.

Three months isn’t long enough to “know” anything. I am new to this country – to this continent – and I have experienced relatively little in the grand scheme of things. If I returned to the States now, I could certainly share insights into life in Spain and on how it differs from life in the US. They would be shallow observations, though, because I haven’t come here to report back on my findings.

I’m here to live. Solo mirando solo.

Basketball Dreams

When the original 10 Cities/10 Years project concluded, my biggest struggle was explaining the “why” of it, both to others and to myself. I did it, it happened, there was nothing more to it. The project was such a massive undertaking that it’s nearly incomprehensible to suggest there was no grand purpose to the endeavor, and yet.

Now in Spain, I feel a similar disconnect. The people I know have different reasons for being here, either seeking a break from their life, or improving their Spanish, or even escaping a painful past. Some will be here a year, others might push it to two. In the end, though, they will return home, because home is something definite to them.

I’ve nothing to return to. I’m home here. And then, some day – a year, two years, a decade from now – I’ll be home somewhere else. Home is always the future, never what’s past.

Los Portadores de la Antorcha

I have no idea where I will be in a year. In some ways, that’s standard operating procedure for me, but in the past there’s always been scaffolding to provide shape to the uncertain future. I might not have known what city I would be in, but I knew I’d be somewhere new, starting over, getting on with the process of life and building towards New York.

A year from now, I could be in Madrid or Barcelona, some other European country, or somewhere in Asia. Maybe circumstances will force me back to the US or into some heretofore unimaginable corner of the planet. I mean, probably Madrid, but also, if the wind blows, so be it.


I am on my own.

This much I know. Everything is up in the air and the roads undiscovered are plentiful, but there has been one truth to my life that hasn’t changed: I will find my own way.

May it not always be a lonely path. Cada camino es un buen camino.

Watching the sun set

Madrid sure is pretty, isn’t it?



Shuttering: My journey in photography

I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

Over the span of my illustrious adulthood, I have changed jobs more times than I’ve gone to a barbershop. Due to my decade-long itinerant ways, that was essentially inevitable, but even if I had stuck with one home, I can’t imagine stomaching one career for very long.

I’ve never had the luxury of choosing a job that matched my career ambitions. I worked at Forever 21, for god’s sake. Paying the bills has always taken precedent over holding out for a dream job, though there are definitely careers I would love to try.

I recently applied for a particularly enticing position with the New York Times as a travel writer, a “dream job” if ever there was one. I’m not going to be hired, I know that. (Yes, yes, I hear you chiding me to put positive energy into the world, but I’ve been screaming “Oprah’s going to give me a million dollars” at my mirror for years and it still hasn’t happened.) Even knowing the odds are slim-to-none, I had to apply. It would have haunted me for the rest of my life if I hadn’t.

This particular job would be especially gratifying because it involves the three things I love most in the world: Travel, writing, and photography (not necessarily in that order). For most of my life, writing has been the main focus of my creative output, but there are times where I find greater satisfaction through other outlets.

Currently, while I’m enjoying traveling (next weekend, I’ll finally be making my first visit to Paris), the activity that’s giving me the greatest thrill is photography.

This photo was published in the After Happy Hour Review.

Behind the Lens

I studied photography in high school. “Studied” is perhaps not exactly accurate. After learning the basics in Photo 1, I took three straight semesters of Advanced Photography (because, for some reason, that was allowed) and spent every available moment sniffing the fumes in the darkroom, attempting to Frankenstein cool images with light tricks and merged negatives. Of the hundreds of experiments I tried, maybe a dozen of them resulted in anything remotely compelling.

My days of shooting and developing film ended with high school as the costs grew increasingly prohibitive and I no longer had free access to a darkroom (I considered Matthew McConaughey-ing around, but I just didn’t have the moustache for it). So, while I will always relish the stark look of film (particularly in black and white), I’ve been shooting in digital ever since college and I’ve come to appreciate the versatility it provides.

How I was in the darkroom, stumbling through hours of failures to achieve one shot I loved, is essentially the same way I am as a photographer. For every shot that comes out well, I have four or five (or fifteen) lousy photos that I just delete. With digital, I can afford to fail. If I were still shooting on film, that technique would have bankrupted me years ago.

I miss film, though, no question. I miss spending hours in the darkroom. It’s not quite the same rush staring at Photoshop for three hours (but I do it).

Whatever the tools, I am enamored with photography, both as an art form to appreciate, and a medium with which to express myself. I wouldn’t call myself a particularly skilled photographer, but I am eager to learn and constantly trying to improve. My aim is to understand more about my tools, both my camera and the photo editing software. And, then of course, my own eye.

Capricho Cascada

The Eye

During 10 Cities/10 Years, I was usually alone when I explored. People don’t tend to get too enthusiastic about wandering their own city, so I spent many afternoons walking aimlessly, just me and my camera. My photography from those years, as a result, generally reflects a solitary eye looking for the sublime or unusual in the ignored or seemingly mundane.

I will always enjoy that sort of photography, but as with everything else in life, I’m compelled to keep trying new things, pushing against the boundaries of my style.

For the last year, I’ve been attempting to photograph more human subjects, mostly candid. Major cities are a fruitful place for this, because the citizens there have all essentially grown to accept that they’re being photographed or filmed all the time. Don’t get me wrong, some people definitely aren’t happy about being on camera.

Most of the time, though, people just look through me when I point a camera in their direction. Those are the results I enjoy most.

Now that I’m in Europe, I find an essentially never-ending supply of remarkable vistas to inspire me to reach for my camera. There’s so much unexplored territory (by me) that I never grow bored of shooting. Even better, I’m surrounded by fellow displaced travelers.

My co-travelers here in Madrid afford me a bevy of opportunities for collective candid shots and unplanned moments (like when they’re trying to pose).

Additionally, I’ve even gotten in a few “model” shots, which is a whole other world of photography that I’ve never even considered trying my hand at.

In the past, I was always hesitant to shoot people (er, photograph people); there’s something so intimate about photography, it can feel strangely intrusive. But, of course, that’s also why it’s so compelling as a medium. I envy the boldness of photographers who manage to capture truly evocative candid images, the kind that feel like you’ve been granted a private window into someone else’s life. That’s what I aspire to.

I’m growing and I’m learning. I’ll keep pushing myself, because I enjoy it.

It’s not that I believe I’ll ever cultivate a career in photography. That’s extremely unlikely, and honestly, probably not even something I’d want (trying to monetize art always makes me queasy). I simply find immense satisfaction in nurturing the hobbies and pastimes that give me a reprieve from whatever job I find myself stuck in at any given moment.

I’ll always have to find some gig, more or less temporary, to pay the bills. As long as I have my creative outlets, though, I’m able to bear any job for at least a little while. Even Forever 21.



Fotos de Madrid

Last Thursday, my friend Emily arrived, a little loopy from the flight, but otherwise ready to begin her year in Spain. Since then, we’ve met up with some new friends and done some walking exploration, but our current focus is on finding an apartment. As anyone who has moved to Madrid will tell you (and has told us), attaining a flat in this city is a gargantuan task.

With any luck, I’ll be writing next week’s post from my new home. If not, I might be writing it from a café with all of my stuff at my feet.

Since I’m a bit preoccupied with that search right now, I’m not going to write a long post today (hey, I can hear you celebrating back there). Instead, here are some fotos from my first month in Madrid.

Hasta luego!

Travel Living

Yesterday, my online course with the International TEFL Academy officially began. This is the first step in my long term plan to live and work abroad indefinitely. Over the next ten weeks, I will be reading lessons, taking quizzes, and completing assignments, the first time I’ve had to do any of this since I graduated college back in 2005. Never too late to try a new path, right?

I don’t know what type of teacher I’ll be; it’s never been something I seriously considered. Not that I’ve ever given serious consideration to any sort of career – other than writing, of course. One of the major forces behind 10 Cities/10 Years was my aversion to chaining myself into a job and settling for a traditional career plan. Eleven years later, can’t say I’ve changed much in that regard.

It’s why teaching English as a second language interests me, and why I’m willing to put down a sizeable investment for this certification. I’m learning a skill, developing a marketable tool that can take me anywhere – anywhere. If it weren’t for the lousy weather, I’d spend a year in the South Pole teaching penguins the indicative mood.

Spain is just the first stop for me. And yes, yes, I hear you asking: The first of 10? In 10 years?


The goal going forward is not to bind myself to yet another schedule. At 22, I needed the structure and form of 10 Cities/10 Years because I was a traveling rube. I had only ever lived in small town Kansas – other than a summer in Washington D.C. – before I moved to Charlotte. Having a rigid plan kept me on track and gave me a finish line to reach for so that I kept striving, especially when the bottom fell out, which it did often.

By the time I had reached the final few cities, though, 10 Cities/10 Years had become a career in its own right. It wasn’t like any career you’ve had, to be sure, but as I swung through many of the same touchstones each year, it grew just as confining and limiting as if I had saddled up to a desk and filled out TPS reports. It’s not something I want to lock myself into again.

All the same, I’ll be forever grateful for those experiences I had through the decade, and more importantly, the skills I gained. I ended the project an infinitely more adaptable person. Traveling was an abstract idea when I set off on my decade tour, but now it’s a fundamental part of who I am. 10 Cities/10 Years was the scaffolding upon which I built my life; now I can stand without it.

One of the most vital adaptations I gained throughout those 10 cities was the ability to compartmentalize time. Everything was temporary – everything is temporary – which was a good reminder to enjoy what I had while I had it. Even more important for my mental survival, though, was the knowledge that if I had landed myself in an untenable situation – a crappy job, a messy living arrangement – there was a finite amount of time with which I would have to put up with it. All things would pass.

The whole endeavor made me profoundly aware of how long and how short a year really is. We divide our lives into years, both in terms of the calendar and our birthdays, but they’re largely arbitrary distinctions, the difference from December of 2016 to January of 2017 being negligible at best. Unless some major life change occurred in a particular period of time, months blur together, and then years.

From my 20s to my early 30s, my memories and associations have distinct time and place markers. There’s no blurring together of Chicago and Nashville, or Seattle and New Orleans. Even when engaged in similar activities in each city, the different backdrops and new companions shaded each year in its own, unique hue. Considering my affinity for whiskey, it’s helpful to have the memory aids.

No idea who any of these people are.

Travel Living

If I’m not launching a second round of 10 Cities or, more ambitiously, 10 Countries in 10 Years, why keep the name? Because it’s who I am now. Everything that I went through and everything I overcame during that decade of itinerancy not only developed me personally, but shaped my understanding of what it is to live.

As I pursue my dream of prolonged expatriatism, my intention is for this website to be more than just another travel blog, more than tourism porn to make people jealous of all the cool things I’ve seen. (I mean, yeah, hopefully it’ll be at least a little of that, but I want it to be more.) Ideally, it can illustrate travel as a way of life.

Over the years, as I’ve read travel blogs, I’ve felt deep jealousy towards those people who just hop from country to country – probably you have, too. Every blogger inevitably writes a post about “How I Do It” and once you get past most of the boilerplate “Just do it” aphorisms, the answer generally boils down to a mix of having lucrative employment (and/or a trust fund) and some form of company sponsorship. I always leave those posts feeling defeated, not inspired.

There’s a great deal of implicit privilege built into the whole travel blogging sphere. Even though I had neither reliable income or sponsorship, I still recognize that without my own privilege as a white male, 10 Cities/10 Years – an already arduous endeavor – would have been so much harder.

With that in mind, here are my goals for this website as I embark on my next chapter of travel:

  1. Provide useful tips on how to travel, not as a sentient billboard but as a real person
  2. Offer more than postcards; experiencing cultures has greater value than taking the quintillionth picture of the Eiffel Tower (you better believe I’ll take a picture of the Eiffel Tower when I get the chance)
  3. Inspire through practical and actionable information; no vague platitudes
  4. Acknowledge where my privilege benefits me and use it positively
  5. Be more than a travel blog; exemplify Travel Living
  6. Enjoy the journey

The next eight months are going to rush by, especially once the summer arrives and plans start to firm up. I hope you’ll follow along with the process. Perhaps it will give you the inspiration and guidance to finally take that trip or make a needed career change.

Here we go.

“It’s hard to put into words…”

Visiting Spain was a life changing experience.

That sentence has launched a thousand sorority sisters’ stories. Traveling abroad is a rite of passage for a certain, shall we say, privileged segment of the population and has long been an indication that your buddy is going to spend the next three weeks speaking in a vaguely European accent.

How much do our lives really change after such travels? It depends a great deal on how much you immerse yourself in the culture of your destination. I’ve had opportunities to backpack through Europe and I’ve never taken them. In fact, the very suggestion of such a journey was part of why a girlfriend and I broke up. There are many ways to travel, and none inherently better than others. For me, though, slow travel is  best.

I’m not sure it gets much slower than living a year in each city. It was a thorough way to experience the United States, but it also meant that I was in my 30s before I left the country for the first time (Tijuana doesn’t count). By contrast, there is a 27-year-old woman on the verge of traveling to every country in the world and setting a world record in the process. It takes all types.

Visiting Spain was my second European trip this year, and the one that has, brace yourself, changed my life.


One evening last spring, feeling claustrophobic and aimless, I opened Google and typed “Cheap ways to travel Europe.” A few clicks later, I came across a blog with a list of 15 ways to travel cheap. Some I’d heard of, such as WWOOF and couchsurfing, but one suggestion was new to me and stuck out: Pueblo Ingles.

Pueblo Ingles is a language immersion program run by Diverbo. It helps native Spanish speakers strengthen their conversational and professional English speaking skills with the help of English-speaking volunteers. The week-long program runs throughout the year and is free for volunteers. If you can pay for your plane ticket, they take care of the rest. (There’s also a Pueblo Español program for those wishing to improve their Spanish.)

My initial reaction upon seeing this program was skepticism. It seemed too good to be true, so I did some research, finding a number of blog write-ups from program volunteers. Figuring, “What have I got to lose?” I signed up.

Just having the plan to travel again  reenergized me. The come down after the conclusion of 10 Cities/10 Years was brutal, and the feeling of being stuck – even in a city as invigorating as New York – had started to sink in.

A few months before my trip, I was speaking with my best friend who lives in California and she admitted to feeling similarly mired in her own life. I suggested Pueblo Ingles, figuring with her schedule it was a long shot. A couple months later, she was officially onboard.

In the months since we returned, the two of us have chatted often about how our time in Spain has stuck with us. Just last night, she texted me, “It’s hard to put into words just how amazing it really was.”

She’s right. But I’m a writer, so that’s kind of my job.

Abadia de Los Templarios

From Friday to Friday, a group of roughly 25 Anglos and 25 Spaniards stayed at Abadia de Los Templarios on the outskirts of the tiny village of La Alberca in the Sierra de Francia mountain range. Picturesque is an understatement.

My perception of Pueblo Ingles is, at least partially, the product of luck. For eight days in the mountains, we had perfect weather, with warm days, cool nights, and no rain, only white fluffy clouds breaking up the brilliant, blue skies. Our group, a mix of young travelers, professionals, students, and retirees, was uncharacteristically chummy. Rarely does a group of 50 people click so seamlessly, and some of the program regulars would attest to that. It’s quite possible, if I had gone the week before or the week after, I would’ve had a very different experience.


But the fact that there were program regulars – people who had volunteered five, or 17, or, in one case, 100 times – tells me that overall, this is a positive experience regardless of circumstances.

Doug Explains

So what did we do? Talked, mainly. Oh, and ate. And drank. But mostly talked. (And ate and drank).

The week has a highly structured schedule, which at times can feel a bit like a mix of school and camp. There are hours set aside for one-on-one conversations, group discussions, and presentations. Even the meals are organized so that Spaniards and Anglos are always sitting together. At no point did you forget that your role there was as a teacher and tutor.

Yet, it never felt like work. Every conversation, every interaction was a learning opportunity, an exchange of ideas, and a friendly chat, rolled up into one.

Oh, also, there was dancing (I did mention drinking, right?).

Los Turistas

There are dozens of small aspects of the week – walking the streets of La Alberca, tasting fresh chorizo, shooting orujo – that helped create the atmosphere, but what each person takes away from Pueblo Ingles is going to be unique to the week and the individual. Playing the card game Werewolf or taking photos of the wilting mementos of a previous day’s wedding ceremony will certainly live in my memory for as long as I still have one, but if one moment will forever cement my (first) week at Pueblo Ingles, it will be our group singalong to Queen. (I trust all video evidence of this has been destroyed.)

I don’t know if Pueblo Ingles is the ideal travel experience for everyone, but for me, for someone who likes to set their feet on the ground and dig in with the locals, it was an incomparable opportunity.

But was it life changing?

Well, next September, I’ll be moving to Spain to begin working as an ESL teacher, so hard to say.

The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

And hell, I didn’t even mention Barcelona or Madrid. Another time…


An Empty Passport

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I applied for a passport.

Before I was born, my parents lived in Sicily and Bermuda. My father fought in Vietnam. My siblings have traveled to Jamaica, Germany and a host of other nations throughout this world. But other than a couple of family trips to Tijuana, I have never left the United States. This has always been a point of embarrassment for me.

I have visited 40 of the 50 states, lived in 10 (plus one district) and driven across vast swaths of this nation’s undeveloped land, yet I’ve never even been to Canada. The world is so much bigger than the United States, so much wider than North America, and for all my travels I’ve always felt exceptionally shallow in the scope of my experiences.

It’s beyond time to change that.


What’s Next?

I’m going to keep getting that question. It’s inevitable. Every week somebody asks me what I plan to do after the end of 10 Cities / 10 Years, and then a month or so after I’ve answered, “I don’t know,” they ask again. I don’t blame them. I’m asking myself the same question.

I know that my travels aren’t done. I can be proud of what I’ve accomplished (even if it’s an accomplishment with no obvious results), but I’m also acutely aware of how much I still have to see. For these first 6 months of my year here in Brooklyn, I was seemingly surrounded by foreign-born residents, like French, Belgium and Italian students studying abroad, or the European/African roommates I have.

For as much of this country that I have seen, for all the places that I have called home (and I’d imagine I’ve lived in more cities than 99.99% of the people who can be labeled American citizens), I can’t deny that my experience of this globe has been confined to a decidedly small portion of one hemisphere.

Even if what I’ve experienced would be sufficiently diverse for the vast majority of the population, it isn’t enough for me. I’m not done traveling. I’m not done seeing the world. I’ll travel Europe next. And Asia, Africa, South America, Australia. Heck, maybe I’ll lay a flag on Antarctica. And I’ll get around to the other 10 states, too. Count on it.

I’m not sure what the next phase will look like.

I don’t know how I’ll get to all the places I want to see. I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see all 7 continents. I don’t know what any of the future has to hold. For the first time in pretty much my entire life, I don’t have even the faint outline of a plan.

But in a few weeks I’ll hold an empty passport and I think that just might be better than any plan.

the Road is Life.