The life story synopsis of a late-blooming travel writer

Hi! Remember me? I used to blog here during the Clinton Administration. I’ve been a little busy hiding out in a yurt in the steppes of South Dakota, changing locations every third day under the cover of night for the past eight years, but I’m back now!

Actually, I’m not quite back yet. Tuscany prep and a short paying gig have totally derailed my life. I’d like nothing more than to blog about my booty and post pictures of starlets in see-through dresses, but in these times of economic uncertainty I gotta give the paying work priority.

However, I’ve managed to find some text to lazily paste here in place of original writing. Actually, this is all original writing as far as you guys know, so disregard that last sentence. A new Twitter follower asked me today if there was a “life story synopsis” on my blog, explaining how I got into travel writing and I realized to my horror that there was not! How did this happen? How can I have a blog about me, written by me, in order to shamelessly promote me, and not have a life story synopsis? It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in the entire course of my existence! Well, that and when Michelle Bachmann got re-elected.

So, I’m tackling that scandalous omission now. Without asking permission from my agent (She’s on a slow boat to India right now, what’s she gonna do, email me to death?), I’m posting an excerpt from my latest book proposal (is 835 words still technically a ‘synopsis’?), a heartbreaking work of travel memoir-y genius, which briefly explains why I’m a travel writer and not the guy that monitors national and international electronic payments networks for the US Federal Reserve System.

The selection picks up on my life story at age 24, after returning from two post-university backpacking tours of Europe in 18 months, during which time I took a particular liking to the lifestyle in Spain, to face the real world and submit to a career. It ends abruptly, so as to avoid getting into a meatier section of the book and giving away its super-awesome, career-making hook. Enjoy.


When I returned to the US to reluctantly begin my career, in my youthful naivety, I decided that I would live as the Spanish lived. I would place priority on my personal life no matter the cost, and if that meant eliminating any trace of professional ambition and languishing in eternal mediocrity, well then that’s simply how my life would have to be.

Conveniently, with my Theatre Arts degree and the dire state of the entry-level job market in 1994, I didn’t have any choice but to embrace a low-income, Euro-slacker lifestyle. Indeed, I immediately landed one of those jobs specially reserved for people such as myself: switchboard operator at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

This was a job that I’d performed handily during university. I could work a phone with the same technique and élan as a concert pianist, answering and transferring calls for hours without ever looking up from my book.

Having, I felt, ingeniously found a job that only required 5% of my brain processing capacity there was little stopping me from staggering into work on two hours of sleep in the throes of a raging Rum-and-Cokeurism. Staying true to my inner-Spaniard, I would skulk off and nap during lunch. Since time and distance prevented me from returning home for my siesta, I had to sidle into one of the ‘resting rooms’ at the Bank, meant for sick people and lactating mothers.

This went on for two of the most carefree years of my adult life, before things like TV commercial brainwashing, peer pressure and envy finally got the better of me. Actually, more than anything, I’d finally had enough of watching people earning twice what I was earning who couldn’t even print out envelopes without assistance. I slowly let go of my pursuit of leisure, hobbies and rum and clawed my way up the ranks of the Federal Reserve, jockeying and leaping up the pay scale through five jobs in six years until I hit the big time. I was getting a comfortable check, I had my very own high-walled cubicle, and I was the proud owner of all the essential Bank-issued status symbols: a laptop, pager and cell phone.

At about the same time that I achieved what I’d coveted for years, I suddenly realized that my career had taken control of my life and I was the least content that I’d ever been. Out of the blue, I was 32, divorced, overburdened with crap I didn’t need, working an insane on-call schedule, dangerously dependent on caffeine and muttering darkly about life. I’d succeeded in duplicating the Pettersen family career blueprint.

A series of hangover driven moments-of-clarity occurred, making me realize that I had to act fast or I would lose 40 of the most important years of my life to the Federal Reserve. And act fast I did. In a frenzied six-week period, I implemented a critical mass of rash and irreversible decisions: I quit my job, sold my house, car and all earthly possessions, bought a laptop and flew to Europe with the intention of breaking and entering into the travel writing industry.

With no applicable writing experience, no connections and no clue, the first two years of my travel writing career were reminiscent of the pandemonium and accidental success of an Inspector Clouseau investigation.  But I toured nearly 40 countries on four continents and wrote about every escapade.

After months of manic and hilariously misguided pitching to newspapers in the US, my first true paying gig came when a magazine editor in need of a short article on Lisbon found my travelogue during desperate Googling. After considerable editing, I managed to turn in something that wasn’t too bad and proudly earned my first byline. When she learned that I was traveling overland from Romania to Greece a few weeks later she asked if I might like to stop in Istanbul and write a feature for her. The travel writing snowball had finally started rolling downhill.

By the end of my second year on the road, though I had managed to fortuitously snare a few more juicy magazine assignments, the real break finally arrived. I landed a gig updating Lonely Planet guidebooks for both Romania and Moldova. With the exposure that my Lonely Planet work provided, combined with an increasingly large pile of glossy magazine clippings, I was quite suddenly loaded with more travel writing assignments than I could handle and, more importantly, getting paid a living wage.

Apart from the amazed satisfaction of having orchestrated my very own dream job, all that long-term, homeless travel and living entirely out of two modest-sized bags triggered multiple defining lifestyle epiphanies. I realized that even some of the most dirt-poor people on Earth were generally happier than pretty much everyone I knew at home. I realized that a simple life was the best – and possibly only – technique for reducing stress. Finally, I realized that I needed surprisingly little money, possessions and living space to have a rewarding life.