Introduction (from the book)
Up to the age of 34, I had never stepped foot outside of continental US soil - not a single spring break to Mexico even, or a single Boy Scout campout to Canada, or even a single family vacation to Hawaii. For years I never really stopped and thought about this fact; then at some point in my twenties I started noticing it, then becoming more displeased by it, then finally wanting to change it as soon as possible. Chalk part of that up, I guess, to simply becoming an older person, getting to see a growing amount of the US in my twenties, getting exposed to a lot more international culture by living in Chicago, getting adapted to that culture, and finally wanting to go out and see more of it with my own eyes. Definitely another part of it was because of starting up the AvantGo version of my web journal and going from 100 readers a day to over 10,000, with a much higher percentage of them now scattered all over the world themselves. Knowing that my stupid little stories about my stupid little life were somehow being understood by someone on the other edge of the world was a really powerful one to me; when these people would then write back and tell me about what life was like in their corner of the world, I was hooked. I decided in my early thirties that I simply must start doing some amount of international travel every year.
The only problem, of course, is that as a self-publishing writer with not a lot of business sense, I am perpetually broke. As always, though, I tried not to let such a little thing bothered me, and ended up booking two or three Europe trips between 1999 and 2004, all of which had to be cancelled because of...right, not raising enough money for the trip. It frustrated me to no end; but I tried to keep as much of an optimistic spin on it as I could, and just kept writing my journal like always. Now, I am not so vain as to think that all of these people (20,000+ a day by summer 2003) are finding me because of my brilliant writing skills; I know that there is precious little artistic or personal content being offered at the channels of AvantGo, and six million people there looking for interesting content, so I get the majority of my new readers simply through a sense of curiosity on their part. In this spirit, I try to keep people's options for getting my content as stress-free as possible, because I know there's a lot of cooler places they can turn to if I don't. It's why I continue to post all of my work for free consumption, why I release mobile-friendly versions of all my eBooks, why I have optimizations in place at my website for people using SiteScooper or RSS feeds or any of another dozen pieces of proprietary software.
Still, it can sometimes be frustrating to have all those readers and nothing financially to show for it (not to mention explaining to relatives how you can have all these fans but are still standing there asking to borrow rent from them that month). That plus a couple of other stressful things going on in my life is what led me to writing about it in my journal midway through the summer of 2003. It was at that point that I received a letter from Ricardo Ponce, a reader of mine in western Germany. He was saying how sad it was to read about the crappy summer I was having; if I could raise the money to fly to Frankfurt, he said, he and his wife would be happy to put me up for a week in their sleepy, Medieval town of Cochem, pay for all my food and drinks, pay for my museum admissions, and in general just give me the week's fun vacation they thought I deserved. They just hated seeing me have such a bad year, he said in his email, and would enjoy giving me a chance to have at least one good experience for 2003.
Well, it was hard to immediately dismiss this offer; I was still unemployed, though, and had no way to even pay for a passport, much less a transatlantic flight. It was at this point that my friend Garth here in Chicago made the suggestion that finally set the plans in pace - he suggested that I start up a Paypal account and basically ask my readers to pay for the ticket five bucks at a time. By summer 2003, "cyberbegging" had already been a legitimate phenomenon for several years, and the web was full of people asking for money to pay off credit cards, to get boob surgery, and a thousand other ridiculous pipe dreams. If all these people could go begging for money, Garth opined, what would be so morally wrong about asking my readers to donate five bucks towards me going to Germany? They've been reading my work for free for years now, after all.
I agreed, so warily started up the account, thinking that it might be cool to raise $200 or $300 through it and maybe get the majority of my airplane ticket covered. An amazing thing happened, though - once I gave my readers a chance to donate towards me having my first international adventure, the money wouldn't stop coming. All in all I received somewhere around $1,200 in donations, far more than enough to have expanded the vacation into a 22-day working holiday, spanning from one side of the country to the other and encompassing eight public performances of my work. Not to mention, some readers decided to donate goods instead of money; on top of the $1,200 in cash, I also received a number of guidebooks, a German-English dictionary, pronunciation lessons on audio cassette, a rucksack, a money belt, and 100 free copies of my chapbook run off at a digital printing plant, so I'd have something to actually sell over there.
All egotism aside, it was hard to watch these things happen and not get a sense of "You like me! You really like me!" As a web-based writer, it's hard for me sometimes to get a really clear sense of what my readers think of my work. I get my usual amount of fan mail and hate mail, but both are from a slim minority of what my weblogs tell me are the raw amount of people simply coming and reading each day. Even the raw numbers can sometimes be in dispute, due to the still-imperfect means most tracker software in the early 2000s have to gather up the numbers in the first place. As a writer who gives away most of his work for free, I rarely get objective figures that I can point to and say, "Ah-hah, here's how many people are reading my work, and like it enough that they were willing to shell out $12.95 at Amazon." Having this overwhelming experience with the Paypal account not only shut up a lot of my critics but also made me myself rethink the subject, as far as how much thought or time I put into writing any specific entry.
So, the trip was suddenly on. And then I had to run around and get all the stuff done for an international tour that people usually start six months in advance - applying for a passport, purchasing my railpass, booking performances and accommodations, trying on my rucksack a thousand times so I could adjust the straps to the exact perfect millimeter for optimum comfort. I also knew nothing about Germany itself at that point, culturally or historically, so a lot of my time suddenly was spent at my local Borders, poring through guidebooks and atlases and cultural guides they write for businessmen who are about to be transferred there. I read about the Barbarians and the Romans, Charlamagne and Frederick, the Kaisers and the Nazis. I stuffed about 2,000 years of German/Germanic history into my head over the course of three weeks, simply so when I saw things once I was actually over there, I could point to them and know what the hell I was looking at.
My research led me to all kinds of questions I had about contemporary German people. How do they now deal with their Nazi past? What kinds of stories did young Germans hear from their grandfathers about the war, like the ones I heard from my grandfathers on the Allied side? How much of a lasting impact did the Green Revolution of the 1970s make? Why did everyone keep telling me how cold and unfeeling the Germans are, or how obsessed they all are with rules and order? Is it true? What do they think of Americans, especially right now in the Empire Years that George W. Bush has created in the aftermath of September 11th? And for the love of God, are any of these German women gonna wanna sleep with me or not?
I write 2,000 words a day for my journal, so knew in advance that I would have a book-length journal of the trip by the time I was done; so instead of simply begging for money from my readers, I offered to pre-sell the tour book to them before it was actually written (US$10 for the electronic version, $20 for the paper); that's the book you're now holding, either as a result of donating yourself or purchasing it afterwards at some point in the future. I am hoping for this to merely be book 1 in a whole series of international adventures over the next decade; as I write this introduction, for example, I am also devoting time to scheduling my next tour, which will be in the United Kingdom in October of this year, a book of which will be available in spring 2005, and of which you can pre-purchase a copy of right now if you want, at my online journal [geocities.com/jpettus.geo]. As with everything else in my life, we'll see if these plans eventually come to fruition; for now, though, I hope you enjoy this book, and get a kick out of watching one random American lose his international-traveling cherry. This is not a guidebook per se, although it definitely tells the story of one person's travels, and all the specific things he saw, heard, ate, drank, smelled, smoked, kissed and otherwise interacted with over the course of 22 days in October 2003. I hope you enjoy it with that spirit in mind.