It is the night before everything will change. And I ask myself the same 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?”, because I knew that if I don’t change anything about the status quo that is filled with negative emotions, I might never get out of this hole.
On the surface, in early 2009 life seemed to be great. I seemed to finally 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 the Goethe University in Frankfurt and receive an MA degree in American studies. At the market research institute where I was working, I was no longer just an interviewer, but also monitoring and coaching other interviewers. My family seemed to be glad that I can handle my life. But as all of us have felt at some point in life, deep inside I dealt with a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and that rollercoaster seemed to derail. Deep inside a world was collapsing, and the driving force behind it was love.
As usual, I processed all the negativity and tried to turn it into something artistic, playing in the local metal band ‘Love Turns Hate’. Yeah, I know, quite a cynical name, originally the name of the first song that I wrote during a class trip in Italy, before one of our bandmates proposed it as our band name. Music has always been the greatest therapist to us. Hence, we never felt like writing songs about blossoming flowers. We were excited to give the longest concert we had ever had on July 24th, 2009. Although we had more than half a year time, I had decided to make this day the turning point of the year. For me it wasn’t just about the concert: For that date I planned to do things that I felt were impossible for me to do at that time, like quitting to smoke and quitting to drink alcohol, as well as to fast all the days of the Ramadan month, something that I had never done before, as in this period of my life a shift was taking place from being agnostic to believing in God.
The pressure grew, as I started writing my master thesis. The routine was eating me up inside so bad, and for various reasons my desire just to be away from everything for a while rapidly grew. Something inside of me kept telling me that I need to do something big, but I didn’t know what it was. Maybe I just needed a small break from everything? With my friends I would soon travel to Amsterdam for holidays, but I was quite sure that this would not be enough. I was craving for a life-changing experience.
It was a day like any other, and I was daydreaming about remote places, when I found myself checking prices for different destinations. Would it be another one of those two week-holidays in Ibiza, where I escape the problems and fall back into the routine? That will not change a thing. Since the period for me writing my final thesis stretches throughout half a year, I will not have much time to escape. Probably only six weeks. I should choose wisely. I look at far remote places such as Sierra Leone, and liked the idea to visit that place. But I also felt like maybe I needed to return to Pakistan and reconnect with all my relatives, whom I hadn’t seen since I was a child. Then again, being a student of American culture, it did make sense to return to the United States, a thought that reminded me visiting New York nearly ten years ago.
Googling about traveling the world was initially just a way to get some inspiration and ideas. But then I saw had a look at the website of STA Travel, who offer different “Around the World” tickets that are comparably much lower than if you book single flights and try to combine them. If I only had one chance to make this dream come true, I was thinking shortly before noticing something about the prices, which prompted me to calculate how much money I would have on my account if I worked every single day without a break and spend less money for everything for the next couple of months. Had I just caught myself in another one of those moments where I think about doing something big and crazy, and the next day I will have forgotten about it all? No, something was different. Since that moment I forgot about all the "What Ifs", never wasted a thought on why it could not work, because I became obsessed with the question, how I can make it work. If I worked hard every day and planned everything carefully, I began to realize, I could travel around the world. The question was only: How much do I want it?
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Months passed, but not one day, where I did neglect the aim of reaching enough money to fly around the world. The number on my account got higher and higher. Even though it wasn’t much money, I had never saved that much money in my life before, boosting my confidence. Already before we gave our highly anticipated concert on July 24th, I already had enough money to book an Around the World ticket, but I did not want just any Around the World Ticket that they offered on their website, I wanted MY Around the World ticket. It is always tempting to spend the money on other things, but not for me, because of how convinced I was that no smartphone, no car, no own flat and not even a girl could change my emotional condition.
Since 2010 will be the year, where I will have to hand in my final thesis, and where I will have my final oral and written exams, I knew that I won’t have too much time flying around the world. But I was convinced that by making it as big as possible, by filling it with as many surreal moments as possible, by forgetting time and focusing on creating moments that I will never forget, this will be a journey that I would be looking back at without ever having any regrets. I was convinced that this has the potential to change everything forever, and I felt this urge to go out and see the world and make the world convince me that there is much more than this out there. There has got to be more than this!
Everything seemed to get better and better, and I was concerned more and more. My motivation found new heights on the day that I had been thinking about since half a year. On July 24th our band had our longest concert, after which I quit smoking, quit drinking and was even determined to fast all 30 days of Ramadan for the first time in my life. For those who grew up fasting during the month of Ramadan every year, it is not a big deal. For me, much like for most Non-Muslims, fasting during Ramadan even for a few days seemed like a tough challenge, and under normal circumstances, fasting even for one day would be difficult for me. But since early 2009 I keep asking myself: How far would I go? A pretty uncool thing to do among so many unreligious and even antireligious people around me, but I was ready to make this one sacrifice, asking God, for something that no human in the world could ever give me: to make the impossible possible.
However, there was one miscalculation. Going with my friends in Amsterdam to party would coincide with the latter third of Ramadan, so I had to make a choice to abandon the fasting and party with friends or to keep the straight edge streak and to fast on top of that. I decided for the latter, which was very difficult, considering the fact that I was surrounded by hot chicks who invited guys on the dancefloor to openly play with their genitals and my friends getting wasted. Nevertheless, for once in my life I resisted all temptations, stayed straight edge, somehow even managed to ignore the girls and fasted every single day of Ramadan, felt healthier than ever before, and even the girl I had a crush on back in Germany seemed to connect with me more and more.
We often talk about plans, ideas, how we could do this and that, but too often we end up never doing any of those things. It's just words coming out of our mouths. And I was sick of this. Hence, I kept silence. Secretly, I visited the office of the STA travel agency in September to discuss the possibilities. The weeks thereafter I made a detailed plan, of which nobody knew. After one more meeting with the Agency, I finally paid the thousands of Euros, and the bookings were confirmed. After having done so, on my way back home, I looked at the ticket, the amount of money that I paid, and all the destinations that are scheduled, starting from April 1st, 2010: 12 flights, 10 countries, 5 of them hand-picked and 5 additional free stop-overs, 4 continents, 6 weeks. Subsequently I asked myself: "What on earth have I just done?". In disbelief I looked at the paper, according to which I would travel around the world next year. ‘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. Days prior to coming up with this idea, I would have laughed out loud, had somebody told me that I would book an Around the World-ticket. and if it goes wrong, my life sucks anyway right now, so what can happen?
Only now that I reached the point of no return, I started thinking about all the ‘what If’s’: I had no travel insurance: What if I miss one of the twelve flights? I have no health insurance and I will probably not get one, since I am seriously running out of money, but what if I get sick or if I am involved in an accident during the trip? I also don’t have a credit card: What if my debit card for some reason won’t work or if I lose it again? The fact that I have no driver’s license and that I am a bad swimmer raise my concerns only more.
Ready for Take-Off
Finally, I disclosed my little secret and all my friends and my family got to know about my daring undertaking. As expected, the reactions ranged from happiness to disbelief to encouragement to discouragement. Some people found it suspicious that the alleged Around the World Trip would start on April Fool's day, not taking my announcement too seriously.
My mother thought that I had lost it: “How will you manage to catch twelve flights around the world when you even oversleep your band rehearsals?”. Good point. Just recently I overslept a rehearsal that started at 8 pm.
The following weeks I was busy with work, studying, getting a visa for China, while the word of me traveling around the world continued spreading in Offenbach and Frankfurt. Some people were too concerned about me missing out on things because of the short amount of time I have. But what can I say about that? “Yes, you are right, I will not visit 10 countries flying around the world and keep staying Offenbach, so I will not miss out on things”?
I take another sip from my drink, thinking how my whole Around the World Trip could have become a disaster because I lost my debit card last week. Luckily, I found it a few days ago. Actually, it is good that it happened to me now and not during the trip, as it served as a reminder of how much I must take care of my valuables abroad. Somehow my mom was not convinced when I told her that.
Shortly before my departure she handed me a talisman in form of a necklace with Quranic verses and says all the prayers that I say too rarely. My brother, with whom I often philosophize about life, God and existence, bids farewell to me, and gave me a book with Quranic verses.
“Just one more drink”
While walking back home, a guy from Afghanistan approaches me and asks me if there is a bar still open. Once I tell him about the bar, where I just came from, he offers me to join him. For a moment I think about how I overslept my band session last week, how I lost my bank card last week and how in less than eight hours I have to be at the airport, how I should take the biggest undertaking in my life seriously, stay fit, focused and prepared. And right after thinking about all of this, we head to the bar together and have one drink after the next, until I finally decide to drag my intoxicated body back home, where I sit in front of my pc for a while, looking at all the plans, not because I understand them in my current condition, but because I felt like that’s what you should do shortly before you travel around the world, looking at the different entry requirements, visa regulations, public transport systems, health aspects, finances, accommodation options, bla, bla, bla, fuck it all and let’s get it on! I’m ready for this. I have never been readier in my life to change my life! I save the data on my USB stick, get melancholic for a moment thinking about how much I suck in being in love, then cheer myself up by thinking about what a smartass I have become, while listening to the song “Running up that Hill” by Placebo, I lie down, and close my eyes.
“And if I only could make a deal with God”... the sound was still in my ear as I was lying in my bed, thinking about tomorrow, thinking about the last one and a half years leading up to what is going to happen tomorrow, It seemed so impossible to me when I thought about it, but I just acted like a fact, like it was going to happen. I forgot all doubts and what Ifs. I close my eyes, hoping that I will not miss my first flight already, and one more time asking myself the question: “How far would you go?”, and now I know the answer: “Around the World!”