A visit in Prague from the guy who showed me the way.
PRAGUE, Czech Republic- I don’t know where I would be without this guy. I may have ended up just some backpacker traveling endlessly for no reason at all, working odd jobs, doing what I had been doing for the first five or six years of my travels (1999-2005) before he plucked me out of the ether and showed me the way.
I can remember how it happened clearly: I was in Hanoi and I had just gone full-tilt on blogging. I was around 25 years old then and it was a different era — people actually read blogs and the medium had just started becoming something respectable — or at least interesting on the mass cultural level. For the years before this I would blog but it was always something that was more or less akin to an online diary for my mom to read. It was at this time that I realized that if I put a little more effort into blogging then maybe I could make a living from it — maybe I could travel the world writing. There was nothing that I wanted to do more.
However, I wasn’t going this route alone. The trail was already blazed ahead of me. The guy who blazed it was named Andy Lee Graham. Each day he would blog at Hobotraveler.com. He not only told the story of his travels but also how he traveled — big difference. He would talk about how he made money off of his site and how writing gave him the financial freedom to go anywhere. This was what I was chasing. So I read and I read and I read.
At one point I left a comment on the archaeology section of Andy’s site — I predominately made my money as an archaeologist back then — and a day or so later I received a personal email from Andy himself. He told me that he read my blog — he told me that I was writing real. Up to that point, this was probably the biggest compliment I’d ever been paid. Andy and I kept in touch, and later that year we met for the first time in Guatemala.
When I first met Andy in Guatemala.
It was here that Andy really began teaching me the way of the traveling webmaster — i.e. how to make money from writing. He would laugh at how I would be up at 6 am writing blog posts — telling me that I work too hard and how he’s the one who really “walks slow” — but there was something about this that he seemed to appreciate. He taught me more, answered my questions, and gave me projects to work on with him.
While he plays down the role that he had on my development as a writer, I know that if it wasn’t for his direction there is a very good chance that I may not have put the pieces together. I was fumbling around in the bush looking for the path, moving in random directions, not really knowing where I was going, and Andy reached over and grabbed me, set me on my way. The path ahead from here was still full of brambles and briars — at some points it was only faintly visible — but eventually it became more clear, it got wider and easier to tread, and eventually led me to where I’m standing now. I honestly doubt I ever would have gotten out of the weeds otherwise.
While our paths have diverged a little — I went into journalism and writing books, while Andy turned Hobotraveler.com into a very active social media platform — and we’ve more or less become professional equals, I really appreciate what Andy did for me. While he laughs when I call him my first mentor, I know that my statement is correct. It’s just how the learning of a trade has always been passed down: an older man sees a younger man coming up from behind, scoffs at his ineptitude but in it sees some kind of potential shining through, so he reaches back and pulls him onto the path.
Mentoring is perhaps the completion of an art form.
I’m now 37 years old, and I’ve found myself occasionally switching roles — taking on more of a mentorship position to younger writers. The sheer determination of Charles Stevens of The New Silk Road Project inspired me to help him out. So I opened my contact book, got in touch with some friends, and galvanized a large degree of support for his journey by Jeep from London to China.
“Why are you doing this?” some friends have asked. My only response is, “I don’t know, it’s just what other people have done for me.”
Video of Andy and I talking about this: