“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”-Buddha – This post is sponsored by Things to do in Dubai
I shake my head and grin as I think to myself, what are the odds of me running into these numbers here, yet again, halfway round the world?
It’s nearly a hundred degrees out, but a shiver rushes up my spine and goose bumps push up the skin on my forearms.
“Of course you’re here!”
I try to focus on what’s in front of me, planting my tripod in the sand, adjusting my lens and zooming out far enough to capture the destination that’s haunted my dreams for so many years. The sun is high in Egypt’s vaulted blue sky today and there isn’t a cloud in it. The Great Sphinx and the Pyramid of Khafre are just about the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen – but I can’t take my eyes off the three numbers that have returned to me once again. In a way, they’re they reason I’m here.
Out of respect for all they’ve done for me, I set my camera down and walk over to the back row of seating. Seats 44 and 43 are facing the Pyramids, and tonight they will be filled along with the thousand other seats that surround them for a concert that will be held here.
I tell the seats that I’ve done it. I’ve officially crossed all of Africa.
What a thing to finally be able to say out loud, and I can’t think of better company to say it in. I’ve gone through so much these past few years, and these numbers have been by my side the whole way, not just on the first leg of this around the world trip. It took 260 days to travel from Cape Town to Cairo, but I’ve been pursing these Pyramids much longer than that.
So maybe now is a good time to talk about these special friends, about how much they mean to me – and how in a crazy, fascinating way, they’re a big part of why I’m here.
Way back in 2008, I transitioned from a high school social studies teacher to an educational consultant while living in Seattle. At 28, it was a big step up and I was the youngest consultant in the company with the most territory to cover. I was responsible for implementing the company’s educational software program in schools from Alaska to California and as far east as North Dakota. The job nearly doubled my old salary and had great perks. I got to travel to parts of the country I had never been to every other week and sleep in and work from home the others.
It was exciting at first. But after I got the scripted speech down that the company I worked for forced me to deliver in the trainings I conducted there wasn’t much left for me to do. I quickly found myself saying the same exact mind numbing things day after day. With my brain stuck on autopilot I started to realize that this was no way to go through life and what I found out was that I only loved getting the job and not the actual act of doing the job.
Two years later, the company was sold, and as people were being laid off and jobs were being reshuffled I asked to be transferred to Miami. Incredibly, a new position had just been created in South Florida’s Broward County and they needed someone to take over the growing territory so they honored my request.
I was naive, I thought the warm weather and living on the beach might change my feelings about the job, but things quickly snowballed and became much worse. On paper, I had it all, a beautiful girlfriend, an oceanfront condo in South Beach and a job that appeared to be rewarding. I basked in the benefits of a young professional in Miami – pool parties, late nights out, and sleek leather furniture. But something was missing and I didn’t know exactly what it was.
I started hating the idea of going to work each morning and my fuse grew shorter and shorter at the trainings I conducted. On the way home from an awful presentation at a middle school in Fort Lauderdale I called my manager and asked for a 3-month leave of absence on the spot. I almost couldn’t believe I said it and I told her that if I couldn’t get the three months off that I would have to quit.
She reluctantly agreed only for the simple fact that it would take longer than three months to find, hire and train someone else to take my job.
So two weeks later I was on a spontaneous one-way flight to Hong Kong – for which I planned nothing. I was so tired of knowing exactly what to expect each day that I needed to completely shock my system.
When I landed in Hong Kong I found a room for the week that was $4 a night. The bed was so small that my feet stretched into the shower when I slept, but I loved it. I spent the first few weeks bouncing around Southeast Asia – I would look at a map when I was ready to find a new place to explore then book a flight for later that day. After a week in Bali it was off to Australia and New Zealand, then it was India and the Middle East. One morning I woke up wanting to climb Table Mountain in Cape Town so I took a red eye flight that very night from Dubai to South Africa. After that I wanted to meet my Italian relatives so I ended up spending a week with them in their picturesque apple fields in northern Italy and then after a quick pit stop in Paris I finished my around the world trip at Machu Picchu.
India in particular changed my life. I spent a week zigzagging the country with an enlightened taxi driver named Rajinder, he spoke just enough English for us to communicate. As we got to know one another he told me about his life and living conditions. He lived in a filthy tent behind the headquarters of the taxi company he worked for. When I asked him what was in his tent, he said everything he owns; which was one pair of jeans, three shirts and a few books that were written in English.
On my last day in India I asked Rajinder, “If you could be anyone else in the world, who would you be?” To my privileged American eye, Rajinder had nothing and he lived in complete poverty. I couldn’t wait to hear his answer – I was sure he was going to name his favorite cricket player, as they are considered gods in India. So when he responded by saying, “water”, I laughed because I thought he misunderstood my question.
But then he completed his answer with one of the most moving things I’ve ever heard – “everyone needs water to survive, and so if I was water, then I could help the most people.”
On top of meeting incredible perspective-altering people like Rajinder, a very strange thing kept happening ever since I decided to follow my heart and travel around the world. The numbers 444 started to continually appear in my life and some days while traveling I would see them as many as 5 or 6 times. They would appear in various ways like on a license plate, as part of a telephone number or on the back of a coffee cup. I would see them all the time and often in some pretty unexpected places.
And here’s the thing – it wasn’t just that I was seeing these numbers a lot, it was the feeling I would get when I would see them. It was always incredibly comforting, as if something greater was watching over me, keeping me from harm. And it always seemed to reinforce the same message; I always felt like I was being reminded that there was more to life than the consulting job I had been doing.
One day while in Paris, it had gotten to the point that I had seen so many 444’s that I had to figure out what these repeating numbers meant. I Skyped with my most enlighten friend back in Miami and I asked her what she thought these numbers represented. She nearly lost her mind with excitement for me; she told me that the numbers 444 have an incredible spiritual meaning and that they are the numbers of angels. She went on to say that seeing 444 means that my angels are by my side and that they want the very best for me. I remember letting out a big, “ah ha”, at that moment because I could literally feel them hovering around me.
My friend also said that these angels come with a message and not just any message, a divine one that’s asking that I pay very close attention to the signs that I see around me. She ended our talk by saying, “your angels are always near you and they are here to guide and protect you, all you have to do is reach out to them with a thought, a thank you, or a wish or a prayer and no message of yours will go unheard.”
When I came back to Miami on the last day of my leave of absence I was undoubtedly a changed man. I was broke, I had spent every dollar of my life savings to see the world – but it was more than worth it.
Then just as I was about to go back to work I got an email from the human resources department saying that they no longer needed my services and that they were not going to honor my leave of absence. It was a ruthless blow, the kind that gives corporate life a bad name, but to me it felt like a blessed relief, and I took it as a sign. I could never go back to that awful routine anyway. Food tasted better, colors were more vibrant and I had a glimpse of how my time in the world was really meant to be spent.
Since they didn’t honor their word, I was eligible to collect unemployment. It wasn’t enough money to pay my rent, but it was a miracle nonetheless. It gave me a few months to take a step back and think about what I really wanted to do next. I knew I wanted more of what I just experienced, but I had no idea how to turn traveling into full time employment. And since my old job lacked all forms of creativity I knew I wanted to incorporate something artistic into my future plans.
I had always felt a creative itch deep down but I never tried to express it. I liked photography, but I had never taken pictures with anything more than my iPhone. I also liked the idea of making short films, but I had no experience in that area either. And I remembered that I liked to write as a child, but I had failed just about every English class I had ever taken. So as I was sitting in my apartment and feeling overwhelmed by all the reasons why I shouldn’t try to do any of these things my angels swarmed me and two undeniable signs happened in quick succession.
I had written a travel blog so my friends and family could follow my trip around the world on the website travelpod.com and as I was searching there homepage for an email address, (which I couldn’t find for the life of me), so I could contact them and ask them if they would feature my blog, I received an email from them saying that mine had just been chosen to be featured. Then just moments later I bumped into my next-door neighbor who couldn’t talk long because she had to run home and pack. She was headed to TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) in Vancouver in the morning, which was the world’s biggest gathering of travel bloggers, writers, new media content creators, and social savvy travel industry processionals. I didn’t know that travel bloggers even had a convention but I trusted the signs I had been sent and I let my credit card foot the bill to Vancouver even though I was broke and unemployed.
What I found out the next day in Vancouver was that a small number of people were actually traveling the world, blogging about it and to my disbelief they were making money while doing it. I feel in love with this idea. So when I got home I hatched a plan to transform my life and I gave myself one year to learn as much as I could about photography, filmmaking, travel writing and website design.
The second I came back to Miami, I turned my living room wall into a gigantic vision board, I wrote down a list of everything I needed to do: find a beginner photography class, learn about aperture and shutter speed, learn basic rules of grammar, find my voice, buy a camera, stay positive, etc. The list went on and on.
I quickly realized that I would need to make money in order to pursue this dream of mine, so I added save $20,000 to the list. Then I gritted my teeth and I took another job as an educational consultant. This time my territory was Miami-Dade County, I hated it even more than before, but it was good money and it financed the classes and equipment I needed.
I turned off the TV, started reading more and I took classes at night and on the weekends at the local community college. I also enrolled in Matador U’s travel writing and filmmaking classes online. And I watched just about every YouTube video that was out there so I could hone my filmmaking skills. I knew that I couldn’t put pressure on my website to make money right off the bat so I took a second job and downsized apartments (twice) in order to pay off my bills quicker and create a bigger financial cushion for myself.
I had been planning to quit both my jobs in 2013, but there was so much to learn and so many setbacks along the way that I had to push my leap of faith back until 2014. Ironically, the day I had planned to resign was the same day the company I was working for decided to let me go. Fate was on my side once again; I was able to collect a severance package, which meant I was able to save more money that I expected before heading to Cape Town 260 days ago.
Seat 44. Seat 43. 4443.
The 444s have kept appearing along the way, and I never down play their importance (even when a friend of mine once told me that it was just a stupid coincidence and that I only see them so much because I purposely look for them. I didn’t try to prove him wrong; I just let him think that because I have no need to convince anyone of anything).
This sequence of numbers, and what they represent, has brought me here and watched over me during my most trying times. We’ve become inseparable these past few years and as crazy as it sounds, I couldn’t have done any of this without them. I attribute the fact that I was able to quit my job, find my passion, begin to tap into my creativity and safely travel 16,000 miles across Africa all to these three numbers. They have been vital to the transformation that’s been happening in my life and standing at the base of the Pyramids today is all the proof I’ll ever need.
Even though I’ve seen these three numbers a million times before, today is perhaps the most special, most mystical of all.
I’m well aware that traveling is often about the journey and not the destination, but today’s destination is of the highest importance to me. It means that my journey across Africa is complete. Not in a bucket list kind of way, but in way that’s much deeper than the picture my words could ever paint. Think about it: I had never written, never filmed, never taken a photo, never traveled overland like this, never ran a website – and yet I’ve found a way to transform myself and make it all work. This is an amazing milestone.
The Egyptian Pyramids are the place on earth I’ve been scratching and clawing to get to this past year. I’ve literally risked it all to get here and they signify my unwavering determination to do what I love. Being able to look out at them today means that I haven’t given up, even though there were thousands of times that I could have. They mean that I’ve overcome every single obstacle that Africa’s and my own fears and insecurities have thrown at me. I’ve endured all the long and filthy bus rides, all the knee buckling creative setbacks, and the heartbreak that stopped me in my tracks.
I look at the numbers and shake my head again, filled with wonder.
“Of course you’re here. Because – I’m here.”