You’ll receive the greatest benefit from the following pages if you feel you can rely on what I say. I hope my words will establish that trust as we go along. Still, when I’m reading a book, especially one offering advice, I want to know a little about the author. In case you’re like me, here’s a sketch of the person behind these words.
As I grew up in Boston, my parents often used nice weekends to visit New England’s nooks and crannies such as the Old North Church in Boston and the stone fences of Lexington from behind which farmers struck blows for independence. We vacationed in New Hampshire’s apple orchards and the deep, cool woods of Maine. Later, living in Houston, the family traveled from the eerie bayous of Louisiana to the bone-dry canyons of Big Bend National Park. In other words, travel, even of limited scope, was established as a value in my mind.
Since the Navy paid most of the costs of my college education, at graduation I received a formal invitation to board an aircraft carrier for a three-year guided and catered tour (conducted by the biggest tour operator of them all). Fortunately, the tour took place during a period when no one was shooting at anyone, so I had the opportunity to read books I’d missed along the way and, as recruiting posters promised, “see the world”—well, at least the part of the world visited by the Seventh Fleet. But it kept the travel bug well nourished.
After the Navy, I went to Stanford Law School to prepare for what could have been a fairly conventional life. As it turned out though, after practicing corporate law for a few years, I switched to the public sector for jobs in finance and housing policy in Washington, D.C. Then I returned to the private sector as a real estate developer with some interesting entrepreneurial adventures thrown in (including a natural foods restaurant, an importing company, and a foundation which donates, to Third World villages, equipment that disinfects contaminated water).
For a number of those years I did a little domestic travel, such as river trips, skiing, and hiking, but limited myself to the standard one- or two-week vacation. Then I had an unexpected opportunity to join a group running 277 miles of Colorado River whitewater in the Grand Canyon in 14-foot wooden dories. As it happened, the chance to take the three-week trip came at a time when I thought I was too busy to get away. Wrestling my left brain to the ground, I went anyway.
The length of the trip gave me enough time to separate myself from home and business and to synchronize myself completely with where I was; time to appreciate the geological evidence of more than a billion years of earth cycles, the tales of the ancient Anasazi recorded in their artifacts, and the profound night silence. Above all, I learned how important it is to be on the road long enough at a stretch for a magic “click” to occur in my psyche. That was my first glimmer of the potential rewards of travel. It was a turning point.
When I returned from that trip, everything was under control. My office was only days away from issuing $80 million in bonds but everyone had done his or her job beautifully. That was the day I gave up the fantasy of being indispensable—and was emancipated. I was also a sitting duck for an article in National Geographic a few months later that described New Zealand’s Milford Track as “the finest walk in the world.” I realized I was ready to see the rest of the world—and bought an airline ticket the next day.
Living fully is infinitely more important to me than earning the last possible dollar. Besides, learning about people and experiencing the physical majesty of our planet are like money in the bank. I think of the priest who reportedly said, “In all my years, I’ve never once heard a man on his deathbed say, ‘My only regret in life is that I didn’t spend more time in the office.’ ” I’ll never say that either.
At the time I write this, I’ve traveled in India, China, other Asian and Southeast Asian countries, Central America, about half of the countries in Africa and South America, a fair number of the Pacific Islands, most of Western and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, and throughout the United States. I’ve visited favorite places more than once. India and New Zealand are at the top of the list, but then there’s Peru, Botswana, Namibia, Egypt, Chile, and . . . We’ll talk more about special places as we go along.