Reflections on 2013 – The Keys to a Great Travel Year

I can't believe I was here.

I can’t believe I was here.

This is the time of year where bloggers across the internet are taking a crack at the softball of all blog posts – their reflections on the previous year. Although ubiquitous, I can see the value in a post like this. Sometimes we get so lost in the here-and-now we can forget where we’ve been. I’ll admit before I wrote this post I forgot about how much cool stuff I got to do last year and I was feeling a bit down, a bit “what am I doing with my life”-ish. I think we all have these doubts from time to time, and that’s ok. I know I’m my own worst critic and sometimes I need to take a moment to reflect on how far I’ve come and to just accept myself for who and where I am. This was a really fun post to write so I hope you enjoy!

I started 2013 in Buenos Aires with a great group of travel buddies – friends that I will not forget. It’s a funny fact that when you’re traveling long term its inevitable that you will run into the same people over and over, even on a continent as large as South America. The path is pretty well worn and the traveling community is well connected it’s almost like you’re in a small town where everyone around you probably knows someone you know. So 2013 started in BA with part of a group I met in Columbia that had, just like me, bounced around South America like a Plinko chip, picking up friends along the way and landing on the jackpot slot to welcome in the New Year. (BTW, if you watched that link, how good is Snoop Dogg at the Price is Right?)

Incredibly, it got better from there. I traveled up through Argentina to spend a day exploring Iguazu falls then off to Florianopolis, Brazil. It was the first time I had seen the beach since leaving Colombia a few months before and to the outside observer I must have looked like a shipwrecked, lost at sea sailor as I rolled around on the beach, kissing the earth, throwing handfuls of white sand in the air like pre-game Lebron. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed the beach until it greeted me in Florianopolis with a sunny day and a thousand Brazilian bikinis.

Lots of people ask me “Where’s your favorite place?” My response is always the same – my favorite place in the world is Bocas Del Toro, Panama, however my favorite country is Brazil.  Bocas holds a special place in my heart because of the laid back Caribbean lifestyle, the surf, and the great people I’ve met there. But Brazil, and the Brazilians that live there, make that country great. It’s in the midst of an economic upswing, it has the 2014 World Cup Coming and the people there are in high spirits and great to be around. If hanging out with Argentinians is like hanging out with your down-and-out, almost broke, has-been high-school football star Uncle, then hanging out with Brazilians is like hanging out with 50 cent just after he signed to Interscope Records – things are looking up.

Later that month my solo travel career was put on pause as my friend Paul from San Diego met up with me. It was great to have a friend from home down in SA. Although he’d traveled a bit before, it was really cool to introduce him to my style of backpacking and to strike another item off both of our bucket lists: attend Carnival in Brazil.

After our time in Brazil I was faced with the greatest conundrum of the solo traveler’s career – where in the world to go next? Should I keep going up the coast of Brazil? Should I go to Europe? I had no job lined up, no other commitments, and a bunch of airline miles left in my account. But Bocas beckoned. I knew the surf was picking up and I couldn’t think of a better place to stop traveling and stay put for a bit.

My time in Bocas reignited my passion for surfing, allowed me to paddle off the Empanadas from Argentina and put me in contact with some great people. I learned to let go, play dominoes, eat iguana, dance in the rain and speak better Spanish.

After returning to California I wasn’t really ready for work, although I gave it a half-assed try, working Valet for two days and shooting an email to my manager from my previous company, with no response. Mostly I just caught up with friends and family, surfed more, ate at In-N-Out, went to Coachella and impressed people with my tan from being in the Southern hemisphere during Winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Ahhhh, that’s what they mean by “Endless Summer”.

Luckily I was still jobless when I got the invite to go to Indonesia for a surf trip in the Mentawais. Going to Indonesia was the icing on the cake for me. South East Asia was not even on my radar when I first started planning this trip but that’s the beauty of selling all your stuff, disconnecting from your ‘regular’ life and taking a nice long mini-retirement. When opportunities like this arise, you are free to go.

Unbelievably, while on a remote island in the Mentawais, during the only half-hour of Internet that I got for ten days, I was able to check my email and found that I got a response from my previous manager – there was a job available in Portland! I love California, in particular San Diego, but going to Portland was, in a way, an extension of my travels. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest, or PNW as folks around here call it, so I was excited to relocate to a totally new part of the country.

Once again, I packed my entire apartment into my Toyota Tacoma and trucked to a new city! Since living here I’ve learned a lot. Besides everything that I continue to learn in my engineering position, I’ve learned to cook, to live without a gym membership and to enjoy the sun because in some places, it doesn’t shine year round. I’ve continued to plug away at the blog and I’m still having fun with it and its great when I get feedback from all you readers! It makes me really happy to hear from you.

I hope through this blog and these experiences that I’m sharing that I’m able to improve your life in some tangible way. So feel free to reach out to me and let me know if I can help you out in any way! And here’s to a great 2014.

  • C.A. Schneider

    Hey Brandon! I started reading your blog on Sun and am now officially hooked! You definitely have a gift for writing compelling posts. I just wish I had starting reading this earlier so that I could’ve picked your brain in Chicago. Anyway, can’t wait to read about your next adventure!

    • Brandon Cronan

      CA!!!! I’m glad you dig it. Would love to hear what questions you have! I’ll answer anything you’ve got here in the comments. Or you can email me. Hope all is well and you’re recovering nicely from all that partying.

      • C.A. Schneider

        Good now! I actually spent so much time talking that I was drinking really slowly. So, I was fine except for the lack of sleep. If I ever want to get drunk and go to bed at a reasonable hour, I think I’ll need less interesting friends. Anyway, I have loads of questions running through my head which I’ll probably disperse among several posts but my first question is simply, have you always had the desire to explore the world or did something specific inspire you?

        • Brandon Cronan

          I’ve always loved to travel – even from a young age I would be excited to be leaving on short weekend trips with my parents, it would keep me up at night. Then at age 23, after University, I took a six week trip through Europe and absolutely loved it. I think I’ve been trying to figure out how to incorporate more long term travel into my life since then.

          • C.A. Schneider

            That’s awesome! I love that you found your passion and are actively pursuing it! I’ve never done any solo traveling for the same reason I’ve never done any hard drugs… I’m pretty sure I’d get addicted and have a hard time keeping a job. The adventurous nature of it appeals to me though so maybe in a few years I’ll give it a shot. That leads me to my next question. How old are most of the people you meet? Is it mostly people in their 20s who haven’t started families yet or do you find all ages?

          • Brandon

            Yes travel is an addiction, it’s better than any drug out there. It’s also far healthier than any drug out there and is not damaging to your life, so don’t put it off too long! I meet people of all ages on the road, including families, older couples and everyone in between. One of my good friends is 56 years old and continues to travel on a budget. On the road, it is not age that matters, but spirit.