It is the night before everything will change. While I am waiting for the barkeeper to bring me a beer, 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 the Goethe University in Frankfurt and to receive an MA degree in American studies. 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 fear of failure or the uncertainty in terms of my future perspectives that were sources of tension. As all of us have felt at some point in life, 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, as the screws were getting loose, and the driving force of that rollercoaster was love.
As usual, I dealt with the negative feelings by turning it into something artistic, whenever I met with my band mates from ‘Love Turns Hate’, writing new songs and presenting them on stage. In winter, we were already looking forward to next summer, but not because of the weather. We learned that on July 24th we would play the longest concert we had ever given. Although that date was more than half a year ahead from us, I had already decided to make this date my personal turning point of the year. However, to me, this was not only about us making music. Much rather I was determined to do all the things after that night of which I thought I was not able to do: To quit smoking, to quit drinking, and to fast all thirty day of the Islamic month Ramadan, 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.
Despite of having all those plans after July 24th, the feeling would not leave me that I needed to entirely turn my life upside down before it would be too late. My early premonition prompted me to try to come up with an emergency exit to bypass a potential future reality that I do not want to face. Replacing such an undesired reality is most likely achievable in an environment, where nothing would remind me of the undesired reality, which is why I began craving to go somewhere far, far away. Maybe I just start 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? Something inside of me insisted that I needed to do something that will have a real and significant impact on my life.
It was a day like any other, where I was daydreaming, thinking about remote places, and soon looking for ticket prices to fly to different destinations. It rarely happened that I travelled, and on those occasions when I did, usually I could only afford a short trip to a neighbouring country. As I looked at the different offers online, I easily concluded that a one-week All-Inclusive trip to Mallorca, where I would briefly escape the daily routine that ate me up inside, and where I would feel only more frustration after feeling care-free abroad, because I would fall back into the unbearable routine, would not have the intended impact on my life that would 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 want to visit. As much as I felt the urge to travel to an exotic and untypical destination, where ideally nothing will remind me of my usual environment, I could not ignore the idea of returning to two very familiar destinations. Maybe I just need to remember where I come from and return to my country of origin to visit my big family there, which I have not seen since I was a child. Given that I hope to receive my MA degree in American Studies next year, however, the scenario of returning to New York seems logical, especially considering the precious memories of ten years ago, my first trip to New York, when I was a young kid that was overwhelmed by all he had seen during the trip, places he had previously only seen in the movies.
‘How I wished that I could do all three of the trips that I want to do’, I was thinking, and just out of boredom and curiosity, I started to check the prices of combined flights, which was of course way too expensive. While googling about traveling, I soon found the website of STA Travel, which offers around-the-world trips. To get some inspiration, I clicked on it. ‘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? Is it just a temporary distraction from my everyday reality? Am I just killing time, or bringing a substantial idea to life? This time something was different. ‘There must be a way!’, I was thinking, telling myself that this could be the solution, and erasing all the doubts in my mind, no matter how far-fetched traveling around the world sounded.
As I calculated, how much money I could save in the next months, at first it did not look like I can afford it at all, until I listed in detail, just how much I could reduce my spending every month, and how many working hours I would need to fulfil, finally concluding that if I work every single day and considerably reduce my spending every month, theoretically it is possible to travel around the world. The question was, just how much I wanted and how much I needed it.
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 my time at the working place fly whenever she was there, and made it feel like an eternity whenever she was not around, which gave me more inspiration for the concert on July 24th. Going out more rarely and relinquishing many of those things that young men do, I instead 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 money 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, but only the cheapest around-the-world ticket available, which consisted of only five destinations. Moreover, I concluded, I needed certain destinations that are not listed on their website to be part of my first real huge travel experience, most notably my country of origin, which can be added if you create a 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 can change the futile direction, in which I was heading. A much bigger problem was time, as I was still confronted with the challenge that I will not be able to travel for too long in the final phase of my studies. Yet, I had no time to think about time, and as I tried not to fall back in that hole again, where I had been stuck before, there was nothing else left to hold on to than the idea of traveling the world. Even if I will not be able to stay abroad for too long, I was sure that such a trip would be filled with moments that I would never forget, potentially even replace the memories that I want 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 and traveling.
For more than half a year I had been waiting for this night. On the 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 90 excessive 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 I quit smoking and drinking. 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 as much as I was seemingly achieving, in terms of education, leisure, work and health, everything felt incomplete without the spiritual component, which is why I focused on Islam, asking God to give me one chance to make the impossible seeming possible, to let this much needed miracle happen.
However, there was one thing that I had not considered in my plans. 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, which is why 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 even during the trip. For once in my life I resisted all the temptations in an ultra-hedonistic environment, stayed straight edge, somehow even managed to ignore the girls and fasted every single day of Ramadan, which in hindsight was much, much easier than I 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 making progress at the university, 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 my writing songs, playing guitar on stage and screaming out my soul would be able to navigate me through this labyrinth of life anymore. The threatening reality that I foresaw in the beginning of this year became real.
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. This time, I did not feel like talking about what was on my mind the most to anyone. The last months, I kept silent on all my plans, picking out ten 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 utter frustration, 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, thinking about how I can no longer function like a machine with all the intimidating social constraints to not feel like a human, to not say what is really on your mind, and to not 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 and humiliation, until I felt anger to an extent that I said ‘enough is enough’ and left the flat to finally use my ‘secret weapon of mass construction’ and make the counter-reality 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 stared at the ticket, at the amount that I payed and the confirmed destinations. On April 1st, it has been confirmed, I am 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 ask myself: ‘What on earth have I just done?’ In 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.
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 almost hoped 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. A few people were thinking too much about all the things that I would miss out on, if I travel for such a short amount of time, instead of thinking about all the things that I would 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”? The 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. And roughly two weeks before the great adventure would start, 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.
While taking another sip from my drink, I think about the most successful concert that we had ever given. Now we have reached the semi-finals, of which I will not be a part of, because they coincide with my around-the-world trip. As much of a pity it is, as much I knew that even the passion that I evidently have for what our band has been doing, would not suffice to defeat my worst enemy at that time, which was a part of myself.
Therefore, I now redirect my focus to the big challenge ahead of me. On the one hand, I feel prepared. On the other hand, other people would disagree, because I am known to be a chaotic person. Just last week, 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, as 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 down my mother in a diplomatic way. Somehow she was not really convinced.
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 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 tiping errors as well, no longafraitomake misstakes, screw everything. There we go, now I get menalcoholic and fall into self-pity, for a moment thinking about all that has been dragging me down, after which I switch on the 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 if I only could; I'd make a deal with God”. I open my eyes again, while listening to the chorus of the song, thinking about the last one and a half years leading up to all that will begin the next morning. ‘How far would you go?’, I have been asking myself for so long. Now I know: Around the World.