When I stared out the terminal window at the silver American Airlines Boeing 777 that was going to fly me non-stop to London, I gathered my thoughts and tried to conjure up a description of my career break mission. I gave up and instead just tried to picture how I would feel when I came back.
I have yet to come back.
From London, I boarded a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa and met up with a bright yellow Safari truck to spend the next month rumbling on dirt roads through Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. That part of my trip was planned, and I had saved the money to do so. I had negotiated with my long-time employer for their blessing and promise of a job to come back to. But I didn’t intend to come back, and I haven’t.
I was determined to find a life abroad; find a way to perpetuate a travel lifestyle while spreading my passion for food culture, cooking and cuisine. See, I believe that a good meal shared with good people is about all you need in life, and that seeking out food culture would be the best way to see the world. I tried to convince myself that if I just kept talking and asking questions, that my travels would expand themselves without my having to know every step in advance.
So how does one go about making a vocation out of traveling the world in search of great food? Well, I had a head-start. In my old life of being an architect, I was lucky enough to write a technical book that my publishers liked. They liked it enough to give me their blessing to write another book, about anything I wanted. And so I decided that along with the small amount of money I had saved up, I would use my meager royalties as a cushion as I jumped from one place to the next, asking anyone who would listen where to find the greatest food on offer. And then I wrote about my experiences.
In Africa, I ate at roadside fish stands and canteens in dusty townships; I ate in family homes and waited out the heat of the day at makeshift bars.
What I discovered, is that as soon as you ask someone about food, you have a friend, and you create an aficionado. Nearly everyone, everywhere, when prompted to think about what they want to eat next, will weave a story full of detail and direction, and will do anything to help you along their suggested path. In this way, my journey was as much about discovering people as it was about discovering food. It was in these conversations and along these paths that I would decide on each subsequent destination.
After a month on the safari truck, eating anything and talking to anyone, I arrived in Cape Town with a hand-drawn map and a list of “must-visit” passionate foodie contacts all over the world.
And so I was off. First to Spain; Barcelona, then to Andalucia. After dining on tiny fried fish and platters of paella, stopping in at every tapas bar I could find, I followed my map to Northern England, where a foodie host showed me the life of pubs; cask conditioned ales, Sunday dinner and the great agricultural heritage that manifests in steaks, chops and roasts of all sorts. I was treated to garden culture and the prize-winning vegetables that the English take such great pride in.
From there, I set sail for the Mediterranean, stopping in Naples for divine pizza and traveling through Tuscany to eat Wild Boar before moving on to Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina for an eclectic mix of European and Arab cuisines.
But the point is much less where I went, and much more how I found myself with hosts and guides and passionate suggestions of where to go next. I think many people plan their “big travel” with a specific itinerary in mind and a plan that requires worrying about missing out on something. The great thing about the world once you step into it, is that everyone has ideas of where you should go and they really want to help you get there. This is the true spirit of traveling; letting the people who inhabit the world outside of your own inform you and guide you. Ask questions, tell people what you are after, get people involved, and be ready to accept their generosity and hospitality.
It is with this spirit that I found my travels expanding out before me. My only plan was to live as thoroughly as possible and write about it to inspire others to do so. I kept writing and writing, striving only to translate passion, with no clear picture of how it would fund or perpetuate my travels. Well… writing led to a blog, and although the blog didn’t lead to any meaningful income, the blog led to an offer to host a radio show and invitations to write for notable food and travel publications. The blog also formed the bridge that will become that second book that I promised my publisher.
Traveling is something that not everybody gets to do, but everybody loves to dream about. If you have a passion for your adventures, share it; write about it; photograph it and create a way to spread it to your audience. In this manner, you are letting the world know what you love to do and the opportunities and invitations to keep doing it may just find you.
I’m settled in London now, with an address and a dining room table to work at as I write and get to know my new town and its food characters. I’m busy finding enthusiastic food folks with whom to trade passion. I certainly had no clear road map to get here, but here I am: A laptop, a digital camera, two books in the works, a bunch of deadlines for articles and a radio show to dig up guests for.
When I set off, I planned and saved money for the first moves only to help me find the adventures and the people that would inspire the second and third and fourth moves. It was passion and the intention to be aware and soak up every experience that truly funded my journey. It was the willingness to share my desires with the people I encountered and the dedication to keep sharing with my new-found audience that has kept this adventure going. Ask questions, Share your desires, engage with the locals and always be on the lookout for the next step to your adventure. Planning and money are important, but realize that neither are absolutely necessary. Don’t let the pursuit of a perfect version of either delay for too long, your taking that first step.
Sage Russell is a normal person who took the leap and found out he didn’t want to go back to his desk job as an architect. He is now proud to call himself a food and travel writer and a novelist. You can follow his food-centric travel adventures and short stories here. His popular Food Pilgrimage Manifesto has created Food Pilgrimage converts all over the world by showing how to break out of the “Consumption” routine to create a life of passion and pleasure through food.