“Now that’s just pathetic.” Confused, I looked up to see an older woman standing over my shoulder with a grin on her face. “Excuse me”, I responded. Pointing to my notebook, laptop, and beer she responded back: “That’s just pathetic, eating with all your friends like that.” I gave a sarcastic chuckle, a generic response, and then she walked away. This was my weekly splurge, where I go to one of the gringo restaurants when their guest chef puts together a delicious meal. Tonight was flank steak smothered in a mushroom gravy, roasted scallop potatoes, and grilled parmesan zucchini. It’s not very Costa Rican, but I hadn’t had a good steak or burger since leaving the states and I wanted to splurge.

As I walked back to my place, thinking about the scene that had just taken place while eating dinner, I found myself grinning from ear to ear. A passerby might have taken me as just another drunk gringo, but there was something satisfying about the evening. What to one onlooker was “pathetic”, to me was absolute bliss. Heading into my birthday weekend, I couldn’t be anymore happy.

I'm ridin' solo.

I’ve been asked a few times recently if I’ve gotten lonely while traveling or if I miss being in the states for my birthday. The truth is that I don’t. Sure, of course there are times that I’d love to pick up the phone and call a group of friends and ask them if they want to throw down on some burgers and catch a movie. Any time that I usually get lonely I’ll either skype with some friends, head to the beach to take a walk, or go to one of the local bars and try to meet some new people or hang out with some of the locals I’ve met.

One of the most important things I’ve done on this trip is to mix up how I travel as much as possible. Some days I’ve gone exploring by myself, other times I’ve done a group tour, and still other times have taken trips with people I’ve met. Each trip has provided a different kind of experience. My solo trip to Hermosa Beach on the Pacific side of Costa Rica was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. The group tour I went on with 10 strangers to Nicaragua was what I’ve called the most “epic” travel day I’ve ever had.

If there’s a tip I would give other travelers, whether long-term or short-term travelers, it’s the importance of just going and doing. Put your iPhone down, leave your guidebook at home, and go explore, see, and do. I will hold on firm until the day I die, that travel is less about the places, and more about the conversations and experiences. It’s about cramming into a van with strangers, crossing a crazy ass border to pay someone off to get through customs quicker, and jamming and singing to the driver’s Eminem  ringtone –altogether now: “Two trailer park girls go round the outside, round the outside, round the outside.”

Sunday I turn 28. It was down to either a Nook e-book reader or DSLR camera and decided to give myself the DSLR for my birthday. It’s an older model and the person is nearly giving it to me compared to what most DSLR cameras cost, but I’m finally getting serious about photography. Tomorrow morning I leave for the day for Palo Verde National Park to do a river boat safari down the Tempisque River. This weekend a couple fellow travel writers/photographers, the Globetrottergirls, are coming through town. And then on Sunday night, one of the local beach bars is baking me a cake.

I thought about doing something crazy for my birthday. I talked about doing 28 things on my birthday or getting a tattoo (which isn’t off the table), but instead decided I would just do the things that I love, and that’s spending time with people and exploring places I’ve never been.

I have a LOT to be thankful for. Is there a mission or purpose behind what I’m doing? It’s nothing lofty, but I hope that my life and writing would inspire people. I want people provoked to do something much bigger than themselves. It doesn’t have to be travel, but if it is travel, it certainly doesn’t it have to be the way I’ve done it.

What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road. – William Least Heat Moon