When you don’t particularly like to travel and aren’t very experienced, where do you begin?
Probably not Entebbe — as in Uganda – as in Africa — as in a 60-hour journey from home. But central Africa is where novice traveler Ken Schneck landed in 2010 after impetuously volunteering to go to Uganda with a friend who was doing charitable work there with a children’s school.
This and other unlikely exploits are chronicled in Schneck’s recently published softcover, “Seriously…What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew” (1984 Publishing; $15.95).
A native New Yorker, Schneck spent his formative years in Lower Manhattan below 16th Street.
“I had heard a tale that there were four other boroughs to explore,” writes the associate professor at Baldwin Wallace University in Cleveland and the host of the radio show/podcast “This Show Is So Gay.”
“This was a myth that was often repeated in hushed tones in backrooms but one I had never actually been able to confirm.”
Schneck and his parents eventually did venture beyond 16th Street; they made four trips to Club Meds. It was not until 2010 that the dedicated homebody whose long-term relationship had gone south decided to spread his wings and take a chance. That’s when the Uganda opportunity appeared, the first of five adventures that Schneck faithfully chronicled nightly in his journal. It was this journal that eventually became his humorous introspective “Seriously…What Am I Doing Here?”
The other four adventures were a 425-mile fundraising bike ride from Montreal to Portland, Maine; a touchy-feely, self-awareness retreat in Big Sur; a second trip to Uganda; and a weeklong Outward Bound foray into the Colorado Rockies.
Suffice it to say that, for most of these experiences, Schneck was woefully unprepared. And therein lies the fodder for his hyperbolically funny recounts that can serve as inspiration for anyone who is considering stepping out of his/her comfort zone.
Schneck writes that his book “ … is not a recounting of the bullet points and time stamps of my itinerary. Instead, the words … are a daily diagnosis, a deep-dive analysis, and a reflective verdict of me: my physical and emotional struggles, my path to figure out my own voice, and ultimately, my quest to figure out what the hell I was doing on those crazy adventures.”
Travel and personal growth don’t always have to come in faraway destinations like Uganda, Schneck said in a phone conversation from his home in Cleveland as he prepared to leave for Guatemala.
“My adventures are not so much about places I went but more about the people I have interacted with. My family did Club Med. It was a great experience, but the real fun was interacting with others. … Even on a cruise, you’ll meet people who you never would have met but for this cruise.”
Schneck also has modified his view that traveling must include opportunities to learn.
“I’ve learned to take the pressure off myself,” he said. “Sure, I might have learned something on that day, but it might not work when I apply it in another context. Sometimes you have to relearn lessons five or six times.”
The most important thing, in Schneck’s opinion, is to learn to say yes to the unfamiliar. By doing so, “I’ve met people that I never would have met,” he said. “I’m a sociologist. I tend to study people and the way they interact. I’m also someone who can feel like a speck in a big world. I can make this more manageable by interacting with as many people as possible.”
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.