It is the night before everything will change. While I am waiting for my order in a Polish bar in my hometown of Offenbach, I think about the questions that I have been asking myself since January 2009: “How far would you go? How far would you go for love? How far would you go to live? Not just to live, but to really feel alive? And how far would you go to finally overcome this forever seeming, depressing chapter of your life?’.
On the surface, in early 2009 life seemed to be great. It finally looked like I could overcome my, at times, self-destructive lifestyle that had been developing since my adolescent years. I was getting closer and closer to the goal that I once thought was unachievable for me, to graduate from university. At the market research institute where I was working, apart from conducting interviews, I additionally received the authority to monitor and coach other interviewers. And my family seemed glad to see the progress in my life. It was, not just the pressure or the uncertainty in terms of my future perspectives, however, that were sources of tension. Deep inside I was dealing with a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and that rollercoaster was driving me insane, driving so uncontrollably that it was about to derail, the screws were getting loose, and the driving force of that rollercoaster was love.
'Love Turns Hate'
As usual, I dealt with all the negative feelings by turning it into something artistic, writing songs and rehearsing them with my band mates from ‘Love Turns Hate’, before we presenting the songs on stage. In winter, we were already looking forward to next summer, not because of the weather, but because we learned that on July 24th we would play the longest concert we have ever given. Although that date was more than half a year ahead of us, I had already decided to make this date my personal turning point of the year. To me, this was not only about us making music. Something inside of me insisted that I needed to do something that will have a real and significant impact on my life. Thus, after giving that concert, I said to myself, I would do all the things, of which I thought I was not able to do: To quit smoking, to quit drinking, and to fast all thirty days of Ramadan in late summer, something which I had never done before, despite having a Muslim background, as in early 2009, I was still in my transition phase from being an agnostic to becoming a believer, albeit far from being pious.
Having had all those plans after July 24th early on, the feeling still did not leave me that I needed to do more to entirely turn my life upside down, before it would be too late. My early premonition made me conclude that I needed an emergency exit if my previous attempts of changing my life would fail, a way to bypass a potential future reality that I did not want to face. Replacing such an undesired reality is most likely achievable in an environment, where nothing reminds me of that undesired reality, which is why I began craving to go somewhere far, far away.
Maybe I just started to feel burned out and needed holidays? At least I could look forward to travel to Amsterdam with my friends in late summer. But apart from temporarily having a good time, what would it really change? It needed to be much bigger. On a day that seemed like any other, where I was daydreaming, thinking about traveling to remote places, I started to look at different travel offers to various destinations. It did not happen more than once in a year that I could at least afford a short trip to a neighbouring country. This time I had enough money to come up with a more ambitious plan. As I looked at the different offers online, I easily concluded that a one-week all-inclusive trip to Ibiza just to briefly escape the daily routine would only lead to more frustration. After feeling only a temporary relief, I would fall back into the same, unbearable routine. It would not have the intended impact on my life to close that chapter of futility
For a while I was forgetting that as a student who hopes to graduate from university next year, I neither have the time nor the money to initiate a life-changing journey. Instead, I tried to decide which country I wanted to visit. As much as I felt the urge to travel to a culturally unfamiliar country such as China, where nothing would remind me of my usual environment, I could not ignore the idea of returning to my country of origin to meet all my relatives again, whom I haven't seen since I was a child. Maybe I really just needed to remember where I come from. But there was a third country that came to my mind. Given that I hope to receive my MA degree in American Studies next year, the scenario of returning to New York seemed fitting, especially because it reminded me of those precious memories of ten years ago, when as a kid I was overwhelmed by all I had seen in my first trip to New York, places I had previously only seen in the movies.
‘How I wished that I could travel to all three of those countries’, I was thinking, and just out of boredom and curiosity, I started to check how much it would cost to combine several flights, which was of course way too expensive. To get some inspiration, I continued googling about traveling, until I landed on the website of STA Travel, a travel agency that offers around-the-world trips. ‘How I wished that I could afford to make this dream of traveling the world come true’, I began to fantasize even more. Before it could happen that I gave up on that thought, I started to notice something about the prices. The combined tickets of STA Travel are considerably cheaper than booking each flight separately, because the stopovers are included in the price as additional, free destinations.
Was it, as usual, another one of those meaningless moments of short-lived euphoria, in which we come up with big ideas and plans for our lives, only to forget about everything the very next day? Was it just a temporary distraction from my everyday reality? Was I just killing time, or bringing a substantial idea to life?
In April of 2009, after realizing that this time something was different, I erased all the doubts in my mind, no matter how far-fetched traveling around the world sounded, and spent a lot of time analyzing in detail, just how much I needed to reduce my spending every month, and how many working hours I needed to fulfil. Since I want to visit relatives who live in different countries around the world, I figured out that I could additionally save a lot of money on accomodation. Finally, I concluded that if I was patient and determined enough to initiate the trip not too soon, but next year, traveling around the world would no longer be just a dream. The question was how much I really wanted and needed it.
One Step Closer
Months passed, but not one day, in which I neglected my goal to earn enough money to be able to afford the around-the-world trip. The cute girl who works at my place made time fly whenever she was there, and made it feel like an eternity whenever she was not around, a source of inspiration for the concert on July 24th. Going out more rarely and relinquishing many of those things that young men do, I used the time to regularly and precisely calculate how much I spent on a daily, weekly and annual basis for everything. The amount of money on my account kept increasing steadily.
Although it was not much money, it was more than I had ever saved in my life, which boosted my confidence. Before July 24th, the day that I chose to be the turning point of the year, I had saved enough money to book an around-the-world ticket, albeit only for the cheapest ticket available, which consisted of five destinations. When I first looked at my possiblities to travel, it had seemed like traveling to three different destinations was impossible, and now, just a few months later, visiting five countries around the world was not enough for me. Certain destinations were not listed on their website, and I needed them to be part of my first big travel experience, most notably my country of origin Pakistan, which could be added if I created a more expensive, personalized itinerary.
There was not much concern in terms of spending the money that I had saved thus far for something else, because I was convinced that no smartphone, no guitar, no car, no flat and no girls could soothe my soul. A much bigger problem was time, because if I booked the ticket for next year, the journey would coincide with the final phase of my studies, not allowing me to travel for too long. My decision to go ahead with my plans was final, because in spite of those time constraints, such a journey would be filled with moments that I would never forget, potentially even replace the memories that I wanted to forget and enable me to finally move on with my life. The concern that everything stayed the same was so much bigger than any concern regarding time, money or anything that could go wrong during the trip.
For more than half a year I had been waiting for this night. On 24th of July I was not concerned about anything going wrong giving our longest concert ever. Instead, I mentally prepared for all that I intended on doing, or on not doing anymore, after tonight. After ninety wild minutes on stage, I was celebrating with my friends, until I ended up drunk in a corner somewhere, asking myself that question again: ‘How far would you go?’.
The following day, as I had planned, I quit smoking and drinking. If I could refuse to smoke or drink alcohol for a longer period than I had ever done before in my life, I was sure that it would increase my confidence in traveling the world, but that was not enough. In late summer, I was determined to fast all the thirty days of Ramadan for the very first time in my life. Given that I had been agnostic before, even just a few days of fasting seemed impossible to me at first. But so did traveling around the world, so I asked God to give me one chance to make the impossible possible, to let this much needed miracle happen. If I managed to fast all thirty days for the first time in my life, I said to myself, I could manage to travel the world.
However, there was one thing that I had not considered in my plans. It was late summer. Some of the last days of Ramadan would coincide with me flying to Amsterdam with my friends to party, something we had been planning for quite a while. I needed to fast, but I also needed this break. In the end, I decided to stick to the original plan of traveling to one of Europe’s biggest nightlife destinations, but without abandoning my plan to fast every day. For once in my life I managed to resist all the temptations in an ultra-hedonistic environment, stayed straight edge, and fasted every single day of Ramadan, which in hindsight was much, much easier than I had thought it would be. Feeling healthier and more balanced than ever before, I was soon back in Germany, noticing that even the girl I have a crush on seemed to connect with me more and more.
“Another beer please”, I call the barkeeper and open another bottle, before I continue reminiscing about my more pious times, trying to remember just how the hell I managed not to drink or smoke for three months. Some people had this perception that just because I turned to God, I would become something like a saint.,But despite of all the progress that I had made, all the concerns about the future, the pressure of working daily while not neglecting my studies, as well as being ridiculously and hopelessly in love with a girl who turned out to be in love with somebody else, made me realize that I had reached a dead end, and I felt that the only way out was to turn around and to give in to all kinds of temptations, until I found myself at yet another dead end, and not even writing songs, playing guitarand screaming out my soul on stage would be able to navigate me through this labyrinth of life anymore. I seemed trapped, as the threatening reality that I foresaw in the beginning of this year became real.
The Secret Weapon
There has always been this one constant that I noticed about myself and about other people. All too often we only talk about big plans and big ideas, how we could do this and that, without ever doing any of those things. In this case, I did not feel like talking about what was on my mind the most to anyone. The last months, I kept silent on that matter, carefully choosing a number of destinations to fly around the world. In September, without saying a word to anyone, I visited the office of the STA travel agency to discuss the possibilities. In the end of the same month, having thought everything through, I knew that if I really want to dare this step, it must happen within the next days.
On the 1st of October, in a moment of sheer frustration and helplessness, having had a bad day at work while at the same time being reminded that I can never be with the girl that I like, thinking about this sadistic phenomenon of somebody feeling attraction towards you the more you try to stay away from that person, while feeling rejection the more you show interest, how I put so much meaning into something so meaningless, thinking about how I can no longer function like a machine with all the intimidating social constraints discouraging you to feel human, to say what is really on your mind, and to talk about how you really feel, I began to masochistically force myself to solely focus on all the negative moments in life that reminded me of failure or even humiliation, until I felt anger to an extent where I said to myself ‘enough is enough, and it's time for a change’, and decided to finally use my ‘secret weapon of mass construction’ to make the counter-realities that I had envisioned real once and for all. The next two hours I felt like I was in a trance condition, leaving my flat, withdrawing thousands of Euros from the bank, visiting the travel agency in Frankfurt again, compiling my personal travel itinerary with the staffs, giving them thousands of Euro in cash and receiving an invoice and booking confirmation.
In the metro, on my way back home, I was staring at the ticket, at the amount that I had paid and the confirmed destinations. On April 1st, it was now confirmed, I would be going to attend twelve flights to visit ten countries, five of them hand-picked, five additional free stopovers, on four continents, traveling around the world in six weeks. With eyes wide open I asked myself: ‘What on earth have I just done?’ In utter disbelief, I look at the pieces of paper, which confirm that in six months the biggest journey in my life will start. ‘Traveling around the world’. All my life I used these words in a hyperbolic context, which reinforces the misleading view that doing so is impossible for people like me. Only thereafter I started to think about all the things that can go wrong. It was too late for doubts or second-guessing. Now there was no turning back.
Work Hard, Play Hard
To my friends and family I finally announced that I have booked an around-the-world ticket. As expected, the reactions ranged from disbelief to support to discouragement and envy. Some found it suspicious that my trip around the world would start on April Fool’s day and thought that I was joking, which was understandable. Had somebody told me in the beginning of the year that I would book an around the world-ticket, I would certainly not have taken it seriously. My mother was almost hoping that it was a joke: ‘How will you manage to attend twelve flight in six weeks, when you even oversleep your band rehearsals?’. Point made. I tried not to think about my sleeping problems, and instead kept myself busy with work, studies and organizing the around-the-world trip, while the word of me traveling around the world kept spreading in my hometown of Offenbach. Most people in my environment were supportive, but there were also a few people who felt that I would miss out on so many things if I travel for such a short amount of time, instead of thinking about all the things that I could see and experience. I did not know how to react to such criticism: „Yes, you are right, I will not fly around the world to visit ten countries and stay in Offenbach instead, to make sure that I will not miss out on anything”? Their discouraging words did not matter anymore, because the flights were already booked.
Meanwhile, new opportunities started to arise for our band in the beginning of 2010. Two weeks ago, we participated in the qualification round of the world’s biggest band contest, where the winners of each region in each country would have the chance to record a studio album and to sign a contract with a label. With the help of our supporters we became the number one band in the qualification Round in Frankfurt and thus made it to the semi-finals in our region, scheduled to take place in eight days. My around the World trip starts tomorrow. As much of a pity it is that I cannot be part of our band's most important concert ever, especially after just recently having given our most successful concert ever, I knew that I had to get away from everything.
The Night Before Everything Will Change
Just shortly before I ended up in this bar, where I order another beer, I bid farewell to my brother, with whom I have been philosophizing about the world and about God extensively. He gave me a book with Quranic verses, after which my mother gave me a necklace with Quranic verses and said some prayers for me, which I myself say too rarely. Friends of mine surprised me with a certain amount of US-dollars as a gift, whereas my dad gave me a mobile phone. Although I usually never use mobile phones, it may come in handy during my journey, especially in case of emergency.
On the one hand, I think that I am ready and well prepared. On the other hand, not everyone seems to feel the same way, since I am known to be a chaotic person. Just last week,for instance, I lost my bank card. Fortunately, I found it again a few days later. ‘Maybe it was good that this happened to me shortly before the around-the-world trip begins, since it serves as a reminder, just how much a I have to take care of my valuables when I am abroad’, I tried to calm my mother down in a diplomatic way. Somehow she was not really convinced.
On my way back home, I meet an Afghani named Faiz, an Arabic word that means ‘successful’. “Do you know if there is a bar open here?”, he asks. ‘Well I just came from a bar’, I reply, and he offers me to join him to have some drinks. For a moment I think about the fact that I have less than eight hours left to take my first flight of the around-the-world trip. I better take the biggest undertaking of my life seriously, stay fit, focused and be prepared for tomorrow. After finishing my thought, we enter the bar and have just one more drink, after which we have just another drink, and a couple more, until I finally say goodbye to ‘successful’ and drag my intoxicated body back home, where I sit in front of the computer for a while and look at all my plans for the journey, not because I understand anything of what I am doing in my current condition, but because I feel like this is what globetrotters do.
Hardly able to concentrate, I look at the different entry requirements, visa regulations, public transport systems, health aspects, financial plans, accommodation options, bla, bla, bla, screw that, screw life, and screw the girl that I can never have, too, screw spelling erors as well, ain't no longer afraid to make misstakes, screw everything. There we go, now I become menalcoholic, poetically and pathetically falling into self-pity, thinking about all my failures instead of my success moments, after which I switch on some music, here it is, my therapist. Let’s listen to something calm tonight. “Running up that Hill” by PlaceBo. Sounds good to me. It’s very late, I better lay down and close my eyes and dream about traveling far away one last time, before it becomes real.
„And if I only could, I'd make a deal with God”. I open my eyes again, while listening to the chorus of the song, one more time reviewing the last one and a half years leading up to all that will begin the next morning.
‘How far would you go?’, to get away, trying to forget that girl
Now I finally know: I'd rather die than not to fly Around the World.'