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What Lives Are Really About

I made it to Orlando.

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SANFORD, Florida- I made it to Orlando. I was ready to pack it in after showing up for my flight at LaGuardia just to find that it had been cancelled for potentially dubious reasons (more or less America’s air travel industry is falling apart). But then a call came in and a possible route presented itself … if I was willing to drive two states away at 4am.

I took it, and drove from Queens to Allentown.

The objective behind this trip to Florida was to go visit with a couple of old friends that I grew up with in Albion. I’m extremely fortunate that I was part of a trifecta of friends. The three of us would do about everything together — football, hockey, music, tattoos, getting wasted, the Buffalo Bills. We’d hang out at each other’s houses for days … and it was a triangle of friendship that we’ve maintained through adulthood.

Places are about people

But lives are about relationships.

One of my friends lives near Orlando and started playing in a band again. This is something that the three of us used to do together while growing up — I even began my travels touring in a band with him. It’s almost kind of humorous to us that’s he’s 41 and playing essentially the same music we played together at 16 … but they were booked at a local festival, and he invited us down, as a reunion of sorts came together.

Readers of this blog can readily tell that I don’t really have much interest in places. I’m not too cool to go to tourist sites but I’m more interested in the broader experience than looking at something. I’d rather interview someone about something interesting than go somewhere that I’m going to be feasted upon by touts, hawkers, and scammers. That’s just not the kind of interactions that I wish to have with people. Or, better put, I’d rather just do something else.

Places are just a pile of brick, concrete, steel, wood, and garbage. Some piles are older than others, some are more organized, some are more aesthetically pleasing. But they’re all ultimately the same show. I really can’t get myself excited about the fact that some dude made an ugly steel tower a hundred years ago. What’s the story there? Nothing much. Give me somewhere that sucks that has stories and I’m happy.

Basically, I’ve never learned anything from looking at assemblages of stone and steel, but I believe I’ve taken something away from every conversation I’ve ever had.

This is what I like about New York City. These people won’t glance up from their phones if you’re being raped on the subway but they are not shy about talking to strangers and telling them about their lives. I’ve gotten into the subcutaneous layers of the city … which is something that’s generally not available to a traveler (more on this to come).

But that trip to Orlando was something different. These are the people who when I look back on my life they will be there — their faces speckle into my timeline. They are the people who’ve known me since I was a child. They know about everything about me.

I’m fortunate because I have real friends. Erik, Sean, Nathan, Andy, Steve, and of course Hannah, my wife for the past 13 years. I realized about six months into the pandemic — after the career that I spent over a decade building went kaput — that the only thing you really have are the people that you spend your life with. The only meaningful investment is in those around you — investments that you make with time, effort, and thoughtfulness. Everything else is shallowly ephemeral. Jobs, projects, and money come and go, and once they go nobody gives a shit anymore. Nobody cares about what you did or what you had, our past deeds, successes, and accomplishments are meaningless when measured up against how good you make the people around you feel.

Nobody but you cares about your victories.

Relationships are the true work of life.


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Filed under: Florida, Friends

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

2 comments… add one

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  • Jack August 6, 2022, 4:05 pm

    It brings the question, what is life really all about? What are we chasing? What experiences are we chasing? The people around us are all we have to a degree, the rest is about the people we run into in our lives. What I love about travel is that we expand that pool and its the people and the stories we find out when we travel. I sure wish I had your ability to share stories, instead I file them away in my mind.

    And yes I changed my email so I know this will get sent for approval.

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    • VBJ August 17, 2022, 9:51 am

      Jack, thank you for the wise words. Yes, that is what travel does — its primary function, I believe. I love that you’ve keep the travels going in always new and interesting directions. It’s really about building something … that you can look back on and say I did that. Relationships are one of the hardest things in the world to maintain and at this point are probably what I value most. I kind of took them for granted in my younger years. Now I know what they mean.

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