The Man Who Convinced Me to Travel the World While in College
In November of 2016, I got on a short one and a half hour flight to go back home for Thanksgiving. It was the first time I would be returning home since I had left for college, and with me, I carried so many questions about what the next four years would bring to my life. The biggest question on my mind was, "should I go on that study abroad program in Cape Town, South Africa this coming summer?" As I boarded my plane pondering this question, I took an empty middle seat in the very first row next to a man who looked to be in his early thirties.
The man was kind of skinny and wore glasses that gave him the look of someone who worked in the tech industry. Although he looked young, at first glance he also gave off a dad vibe. The kind of dad that is friendly, easy-going, and wise.
I took this specific seat for the particular reason that I hated waiting for other people to get off the plane before me. I quietly sat down making sure not to make eye contact with anyone so that I didn't spark a conversation. For insurance that I wouldn't have to talk to anyone, I had my earbuds on playing the song Talk is Cheap by Chet Faker on repeat. I placed my backpack in front of my feet, taking full advantage of the abundance of legroom I had as a first-row member. A few minutes later a flight attendant came by to tell me that I had to put my backpack in the overhead bins. As she walked away the man next to me said, "Yeah, I was going to tell you about that, but I saw you had those things in your ears." Nervously I responded, "Oh, my bad." Why was I nervous? For absolutely no reason other than the fact that I lacked the self-confidence to talk to strangers.
However, the man seemed unaffected by my lack of confidence and decided to continue the conversation with some small talk. I told him I was going home for college for the first time ever. Then we got deeper into our conversation. I got comfortable enough with him to where I began to tell him about my dilemma. I told him I was thinking about studying abroad for a month in South Africa, but I still had not made up my mind about whether I should go. I listed off a few logical excuses for why I shouldn't go:
"You know maybe I should wait until next summer because there is this summer study abroad program in China that focuses on entrepreneurship and I want to be an entrepreneur."
"Or maybe I should wait to study abroad an entire semester instead of for just a summer."
"The other thing is that these programs cost thousands of dollars, so I don't know if it would be smart to go."
At that point in our conversation, the flight attendant came over with our complimentary drinks and our conversation abruptly ended. With drinks in hand, I looked over to the man to see if we were going to continue our conversation, but he just stared off into the blank wall in front of us while taking a sip of his drink. I looked away and drifted off into thoughts about how this Thanksgiving would go.
Suddenly, the man energetically said, "Cesar what would you do if you could do anything? What would you do if you did not have to worry about the money or anything else?" I thought about for a second, taken aback by his energy, and replied, "I would go to South Africa... and then I would go on the China program the next year...and THEN I would go somewhere for a semester."
He looked at me and said, "Then do that. Do that Cesar! Do it all man. Let me tell you something. The one thing we can't get back is time. I'm 45 years old and I wish I would have traveled more when I was younger. Right now is the time for you to experiment and try all the new things you want to try. Later in life you're gonna get married and have kids, and then it won't be as easy for you to do all the things you want, because you have to think about your family too. But if I was your age I would go. And this is exactly what I tell my kids to do. Go explore the world!"
Holy fuck. He was absolutely right. I had gotten too caught up in worrying about the future. And if I could find the resources to go on the study abroad programs, why shouldn't I go travel the world while I was in college?
With a wide smile and wide eyes I looked at him and said, "You're right. You're so right! I have to go... Hey, thank you so much for that."
He replied, "Yeah man! And look here is the thing... I'm not saying this to try to change your life, or to be all inspirational and shit. I'm just telling you the truth about what I think. You're young man. Live. Because if you don't you'll end up regretting it."
As we landed, all I could think about was how this whole interaction was exactly something I would see in a movie. The main character in the movie has a dilemma and out of nowhere he gets a sign from the universe that seems to tell him exactly what to do. The moment after our conversation ended I felt that this man, whether he intended to or not, might have just changed the direction of my life. Of course, it would be up to me to make all the traveling happen, but still, what he did for me was that he pointed out the path I should take when I was at a critical fork in the road.
At the end of that flight, I was grateful for all the people who had boarded the plane before me and who didn't take the first-row middle seat. I was grateful for my Mom who booked that exact flight for me, even though she had no idea what would happen. I was simply grateful for whatever forces brought that interaction into my life.
As we got up to be the first ones off the plane, I asked him, "Hey what was your name? You never mentioned it."
"Well Mr. Sky, thank you so much."
He chuckled and left me with, "Have a good Thanksgiving Cesar!"
We shook hands and that was the last time I saw Mr. Sky. I don't know if it blows your mind that his name was Sky, but it blows my mind because WE WERE IN THE FUCKING SKY when this whole life-changing moment happened! Well, that's just how I think about it.
I did end up going to South Africa that summer, and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I got to study at a university in another continent, and I got to meet incredible people who were brought up in a different culture. I also got to do a lot of crazy things such as jumping off the world's highest bungee jump bridge, sky diving, zip-lining, eating ostrich steak, almost getting stabbed while bargaining, and the list goes on and on.
By the time I graduated college I also studied abroad in China for that entrepreneurship program I told Mr. Sky about. I spent a semester studying in Thailand, and I finished off my senior year by going to study in Havana, Cuba for the summer of 2019.
Now when I find myself at a fork in the road I ask myself:
What would you do if money and all other obstacles were taken care of?
Thanks for the advice Mr. Sky.