The 3 most sacred words a traveler can utter: “I’ll come back”


I was held hostage by Nepalese monks. The weapon they used against me was hospitality.

They forced four meals down me a day. The first time I tried to leave, they consulted their scrolls and decided that the date wasn’t a good one for departure.

I was blessed by a bulletproof monk and may or may not be bulletproof myself now. (Note: if I am bulletproof I’ve totally wasted my superpower not fighting crime.)

Khenpo Sange, the head lama, sat next to me on my flight from Bangkok to Nepal where I planned on trekking, but instead got a really infected foot and held hostage. Khenpo invited me to stay near the village of Pharping (south of Kathmandu) at his lamasery, which was part orphanage.

When anyone asks me my favorite travel experience I think about playing Aerobie with the saffron-clad boy, about their smiles and laughs, as they ran after the disc. I remember the farm sounds rising up from the valley below, the baritone chanting that woke me in the morning, and the smell of the campfire cooking our lunch. I remember the tiny sandals piled up at the door to the room that acted as the dining hall.

Nepal was a wreck in 2001. The Royal family had been murdered by one of their own and Maoist rebels were moving in on Kathmandu. When the bombings and fighting escalated Khenpo Sange, after holding me hostage with hospitality for three weeks, decided it would be best if I left. So I did. But not before promising to come back and do a stint as an English teacher.

“I’ll come back,” I said. But I haven’t. A decade has passed since then. My guilt grows by the year.

I’m reluctant to make such a promise any more to the friends I meet traveling, but I’ve said those three words since Nepal. I said it to the lobster divers of Nicaragua. I said it a friend in Bangladesh. But I’ve said it to myself many, many times.

I’ll come back with malaria medication and Norma’s neighbors won’t have to die.

I’ll come back and help this girl who earns 25-cents per day collecting recyclables. I’ll put her through school and give her the chance she deserves.

“I’ll come back.” The words haunt me. They are the three most serious words a traveler can tell someone.

Now I have this dream of revisiting Khenpo Sange’s orphanage with Annie and our kids. While Annie and I teach English, Harper and yet-to-be-born-son-who-we-won’t-name-Voldemort will toss the same Aerobie that I brought so many years ago.

Conor Grennan went back

The main reasons why I’m so passionate about Conor Grennan’s new book Little Princes and why I’m allowing the Little Princes to hold my blog hostage:

1) Conor went back again and again. The subtitle of his book is “One Man’s Promise to the Lost Children of Nepal.” Conor kept his promise to the orphans of Nepal, and I’ve yet to keep mine.

2) I love Nepal.

3) I’m a dad and can’t imagine making the difficult decision to send my child away because it was the “best thing for her,” only to learn later that I gave her to a child trafficker.

Little Princes is at the convergence of my “I’ll come back” promises as a traveler, my love for Nepal, and my love for my own children.

And Khenpo Sange, if you’re reading this, I’ll come back. I promise. Or to put it in the words of legendary rock-n-roller Bob Seger, “If I ever get outta here, I’m going to Kathmandu!”

There’s still time to help free my blog

I’m letting the Little Princes take my blog hostage until 100 people report in the comments of this post or report back via facebook, twitter, or email that they’ve done one of the following:

1) Buy little Princes from Better World Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, your local independent bookstore, or wherever. A portion of all sales go to support Next Generation Nepal;

2) Donate to Next Generation Nepal;

3) Like Next Generation Nepal and Little Princes both on facebook and then tell all of your friends about it;

4) Blog about Next Generation Nepal.

5) Ask your librarian to carry Little Princes.

And without furtherado, ladies and gentleman, Bob Seger:



I have all but DEMANDED that my librarian carry the book!

You’ve been so great Kelsey, thanks!!! If we don’t hit 100 by the end of the week, I say we supplement with Facebook comments. By God we will set this Blog free!

Kelsey says:

Conor, I hope you convinced your librarian to get more than one copy. I’ve heard from quite a few friends via Twitter, facebook, and email as well. I’ll keep things rolling into Friday. Your book would make for a great Freshman Reader. Mine has been used by several schools in the past and I reached out to my contacts to get Little Princes on their list. So you on the Berkus Show today. From your blog description I expected you too look paler next to Nate’s uber-tan.

JJ says:

you will soon be released…the book is out today and there will be a line-up at my local bookstore. i will be back to this terrific website…travel on, take the wife and kids.

Kelsey says:

JJ, Glad to hear it. I hope it was like the release of Harry Potter at your bookstore.

Rachael says:

Ordered…one book…..intended audience: my eight kids (from the four year old to the 16 year old) AND their friends (including some who lived in Nepal for five years)….and we’ll have an evening to discuss OUR role once everyone’s read it. Does that count for anything?

Let your voice be heard!