CORPORATE RUNAWAY. WORLD WANDERER. COFFEE DRINKER.

So what happens next?

November 15, 2010 | Article, Travel | 38 Comments
Landing plane

Six months ago I sat sad and alone in an empty apartment, struggling to stay afloat while drowning in an ocean of self doubt.  With a few days left until I started the next adventure all of my focus was not on the incredible experiences that lay before me, but instead on the things that I was leaving behind.  The final hours were not happy ones.  All I was hoping for was that once I got on the plane, the wonders of the big wide world would be enough of a distraction to push those feelings aside.

Apparently they were.

As I now gaze out over the rooftops and street markets of Chiang Mai, it’s almost impossible to explain what the last few months has been like.  I can pull superlatives from the dictionary until the pages fall out but words like “amazing”, “incredible” and all of the rest don’t even start to describe it.  When every day seems to be even better than the next, when I feel more alive than I ever have before, when I’ve seen and done more in half a year than some people manage in a lifetime, when complete strangers have become good friends seemingly every other week, how the hell do I distil that into a pithy sentence or two?  Answer: I don’t.  Just take it as read that this has been the best time of my life, bar none.

And yet now this trip is coming to an end.  In a week’s time I’ll be waking up in my sister’s house in Melbourne with my little nephew bouncing on my bed.  When I head down to the coffee shop everyone there will be speaking English.  Dinner that night will cost at least 10x what tonight’s one will.  When I catch up with friends, conversations will inevitably revolve around jobs, houses, television shows, rather than the best way to get from Hoi An to Hue (hint: motorbike) or which beach bar makes the best whiskey buckets in Thailand.  None of this is bad by definition, it’s just different.  Very different.  And to be honest it scares the shit out of me.

The things that worried me before I left have now become a warm fuzzy blanket of familiarity.  Long rides on decrepit buses, cheap hostels and sketchy street food have replaced walking to work, a nice apartment and my favourite overpriced coffee shop in my consciousness.  The idea of returning to the now-unfamiliar familiar seems like watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy – interesting to look at for an hour or two, but not really applicable to my life.

Finding a job.  Looking for somewhere to live.  Fitting a year’s worth of travel dreams into three week’s vacation per year. Measuring the space my possessions take up in rooms rather than litres.  Sharp suits.  Mutual funds.  Retirement plans.  Retirement plans?!  I don’t have a plan for what I’m doing next month, never mind thirty years from now.  How the hell is that supposed to work?

So what happens next?

Well, what happens next is that on Saturday morning I board a plane from Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur, sit around an airport terminal for a while drinking bad coffee and abusing the free wifi, then fly overnight to Melbourne and into the welcoming arms of my family.  Seeing them again will be awesome.  I’ll probably spend a day or two sleeping, getting drunk with friends, reacquainting myself with my ‘home’.

And then the fun begins.

I have no idea what I’m going to do as far as work is concerned.  If I can hold on to just one thing from the last six months, however, it is that I just don’t think that corporate jobs in sectors that I’m not passionate about are my thing.  In some ways I wish they were – it could make life a lot easier – but so it goes.  Travel is my passion.  It has been for years and it’s a vital part of who I am.  On that basis I guess I have two options – trying to work in the travel sector and surrounding myself with people who are equally passionate about it, or self employed entrepreneurship that gives me the flexibility to wander regularly and extensively.  I reckon I’ll have a crack at both.

I’d love to keep that degree of flexibility alive when it comes to finding a place to live as well.  I’d prefer not to be signing a long lease if I can avoid it, and I haven’t decided whether I’d prefer to live with other people or get a place by myself again.  There’s benefits to both, so I’ll just see what happens there, but either way I have no intention of buying anything more to furnish it with than what I already own.  When it will one day end up being disposed of or back in storage again, that seems more than a little pointless.

Motorbike dashboard

Knowing me as I do, I have a feeling that the only way that I’m going to be able to stay sane (well, somewhat) and reintegrate into supposedly normal society is to keep as busy as possible and keep pushing my boundaries as far as I can.  To that end, I have a bucket list of ideas that aren’t a bucket list at all.  They’re things I’m going to do in 2011.  Become conversational in Spanish.  Get a motorbike license and learn how to ride a bike properly rather than just trying not to die on a scooter in various Asian countries. Finally figure out how to play guitar in a way that doesn’t sound like a cat being tortured.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Most important, I suspect, will be having my next big trip lined up.  Having something booked for the future, no matter where or what, always serves as a light at the end of the longest and darkest tunnel.  In this case it’ll be doing some rather incredible things towards the end of 2012 – if I can wait that long.  Watch this space.  The travels are far from ending – they’re just taking a brief hiatus while the bank account slowly recharges.

In the meantime, of course, I’ll be back to living vicariously through and remaining an active member of the incredible travel community that I’ve been a part of for the last year.  Having now laughed, danced, solved the problems of the world and got riotously drunk – usually all on the same night – with dozens of fellow wanderers around the world, I feel incredibly privileged to now count so many as friends.  I’ve got about a million ideas for this site and others, so working on all of those should help with the distraction as well.  I’m actually really looking forward to doing that.

So suffice it to say that although I don’t really have a clue how the next year or two is going to unfold, I’m determined to make the most of it.  I’m needing a change of underwear every time I think about what the future holds but in some ways that’s not a bad thing.  Returning to my version of ‘normality’ for a while may well be a bigger challenge than going travelling in the first place, but my time on the road has changed – permanently, I suspect – what that normality will look like.  I want – no, I need – to keep this amazing feeling alive, and goddam it, I’m going to.  As the saying goes, get busy living or get busy dying.

I choose life.

How did you deal with returning home after months on the road?  Did your trip change your outlook on so-called normal life – and if so, did that outlook survive the months following your return?  What are you doing to keep the dream alive?

[Images courtesy of Daniel Duchon and Sergio Carracedo]
The Friday Photo #31 – Taxi, Sabang style
The Friday Photo #30 – The three things that matter, Palawan

38 Comments

  1. Reply

    Bessie

    November 16, 2010

    Great, honest post! I can definitely agree that traveling changes you, and it's much easier to return to after you've done it.

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 19, 2010

      Absolutely - I have been travelling on and off for years but for some reason this trip more than any other has really turned my world view on it's head. Not helped by a certain group of ex-pats in Chiang Mai, I might add...... ;-)

  2. Reply

    Christine Gilbert

    November 16, 2010

    Oh god, I do not envy your position. What will probably be the strangest thing is not how hard it is to adapt, but how incredibly easy you'll melt back into your old life. But if you want to keep traveling, it will happen for you, and on terms that work best for what you want to accomplish. Personally, I think there is a benefit to taking some time to reflect, regroup and recharge... travel is so much sweeter when it's hard earned.

    I give you a hard time while you're here in Chiang Mai, saying, "Stay, don't go!" but honestly, I'm happy for you and this new challenge. Don't forget to report back and tell us what it's like in the "real world". :)

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 19, 2010

      Yeah you guys have been giving me a hard time, but I love it really. It's nice to feel wanted - and hey, who else can say they have their own hashtag on Twitter dedicated to getting them to stay in Chiang Mai? ;-)

      You're right, as long as I can keep hold of this awesome feeling that 'anything is possible', then anything will be possible, on terms that work for me. I'll be trying as hard as I know how to hang on to that.

      And sure, I'll report back from that strange real world place and let you know how it's looking.....

  3. Reply

    Amanda

    November 16, 2010

    I know how you feel. Sort of. When my time studying abroad in New Zealand came to an end, I had no idea how I was going to be able to go back to my old life in the States. How was I going to adjust back into a rigorous college schedule during my last semester in order to graduate, when I'd spent the past 5 months going to class 3 days a week and traveling every weekend?

    It was rough.

    But I eventually settled back in, and have escaped Ohio as often as possible since then. You'll figure it out, too.

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 19, 2010

      Yup, I'm certain I'll figure it out. It just seems like a big void right now, but once I'm back on the ground I'm sure things will start coming together over time. Thanks for the lovely mention on your 'Best Blogs of the Week' segment too! :)

  4. Reply

    Jaime D.

    November 16, 2010

    This is a great honest post. I have never been in your situation but I know I will when ever my RTW trip ends, even though I wish it never ended I know at some point it will.

    Its weird because right now one of the questions I am getting most asked is "WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WHEN YOU GET BACK?" and I tell them honestly I HAVE NO CLUE, i mean hell Im gonna be on the road for a year or two I serioulsy have no clue. I feel that we live in a society where we are supposed to know every detail of the future of our lives but its best to keep it unwritten and see how it folds out.

    Good Luck with all your dreams and going back home!!! You can make anything happen ;)

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 19, 2010

      Yeah it's funny, I find the older I get and the more I travel, the less clue I have about what the future holds. I believe that's not how it's supposed to be, but that's how it is for me!

      Have a wonderful time on your travels!

  5. Reply

    Amy

    November 16, 2010

    Get ready for total reverse culture shock! In my experience, getting back from traveling has always made me see the waste in our society. We have such a throw away culture that is really disgusting after seeing how the other 90% live. I have also found it harder to make friends as people seem more shallow to me. Its like you said about the conversations you will now have that revolve around work, consumption, trends, and TV shows. On a positive note, travel has made me search out for community. It is so important to me now to go to farmers markets, source local and organic food, and to reduce the waste in my life.
    It's been six years since my last trip and now my husband and I have two children. But it has been six years of planning for our next big adventure which will be backpacking around Asia as a family. We hope to be leaving sometime in 2011.

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 19, 2010

      Yeah I'm expecting the reverse culture shock to smack me between the eyeballs as soon as I get off the plane to be honest, and I'm not looking forward to it! The waste and rampant consumerism are something that bothered me even before I left, so I can't imagine how I'm going to feel now. I guess I'm about to find out...

      Congrats on backpacking Asia as a family next year - I've met a few bloggers on this trip who are travelling round Asia and the world with kid(s) and making it work, so I know it can absolutely be done, and done well! Good luck!

  6. Reply

    Nigel Dean

    November 16, 2010

    Brilliant post - it really has been a life defining time for you I suspect. I have really enjoyed travelling around the world with you while reading all your posts, and the many conversations we have had a good old gmail. I haven't gone very far but I almost feel as though i have had a cheat's journey around the world over that last 6 months.
    My advice from one of the next older generation - don't give up your dreams and your travelling. To be true to yourself that is what you need to be doing!!

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 25, 2010

      Thanks Dad! It's not every parent that would tell their kids to not give up their dreams or their travelling, so I really appreciate it! :)

  7. Reply

    Christine

    November 16, 2010

    I know exactly where you're coming from! I fly home tomorrow and still cant believe that seven months is already up--it feels like I just got to Nice. I'm stoked to go home and see my family and friends, but I know the fun will wear off rather quickly. I'm already looking into booking my flight out...
    Best of luck with figuring out what you're doing next! Excited to hear it!

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 25, 2010

      So how are you feeling now after being home for a week or so? Booked that ticket out yet? ;-)

  8. Reply

    Grace

    November 16, 2010

    Grace post Dave, I don't even know how I stumbled upon your blog and I did.. funny that because theres a lot more in common than my blog name (gracewhatareyoudoing) I guess I'm on the other end of where you're coming out of... on the verge of living in the south of Spain by myself for a year after studying it at Uni and figuring out I have zero interest in pursuing a desk job, your bucketlist/2011 to-do-list sounds awesome. Looking forward to reading up on how it goes, good luck with the post-travel-depression but I'm sure you'll find a way to get moving again and live the life you want.

    Cheers & Buena suerte!

    - Grace

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 25, 2010

      I'm sure I will ... it's a state of mind in many ways, and hey, if it all gets too much it's not like I don't know where the airport is! ;-) Have a great time in southern Spain - it's beautiful!

  9. Reply

    Gillian

    November 17, 2010

    It's hard. I find it harder everyday. I didn't just meld back into my old life. I'm not the same and it shows. And so I look forward, keep pushing, make bigger goals b/c now I know they are possible and then take the steps towards them. I feel freer, stronger, more powerful than ever before. I'm sure you will too! Cheers!

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 25, 2010

      It's an awesome feeling hey? The feeling that anything is possible and it's yours for the taking if you try hard enough. Love it!

  10. Reply

    Dave

    November 17, 2010

    I really love the fact that even though you're going back, you don't want to purchase anymore stuff to furnish a new living space. Currently being in the process of getting rid of everything I own, I can't see myself going back to how I was either.

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 25, 2010

      It's funny, I went out to my storage shed yesterday and looked around. Even though there's really not much in there, I was struck by the feeling that I didn't need any of it and wouldn't have been upset if the whole thing had burnt to the ground while I was away...

  11. Reply

    Kyle

    November 18, 2010

    I'm sure it's an insanely huge adjustment but at the same time don't forget that getting a job and setting up a life somewhere is also a huge adventure, not necessarily a bad thing!

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 25, 2010

      Totally agree - I think it was the feeling of returning to the 'known' that was concerning me. I love it in Melbourne, but it's not the same adventure as rolling into somewhere new. If I was setting up a job and life in a brand new place, it'd be different ... for 6 months, at least. ;-)

  12. Reply

    Joel

    November 18, 2010

    I'm glad you're going back because I need someplace to crash when I get down there. Make sure it's a comfy couch, please.

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 25, 2010

      I'll roll out the bed of nails especially for you, mate.

  13. Reply

    Erica

    November 20, 2010

    I honestly can't even imagine what is going on in your head. While we're just trying to get going on our big trip, I'm trying to push that "what are you going to do when you get back" thought to the furthest reaches of my mind.

    How weird that I have also been part of the travel community long enough to see you leave and come back "home". My thoughts are with you and just make sure that you keep your experiences with you daily.

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 25, 2010

      I know - while for most people six months on the road would seem like a really long trip, amongst our funny little travel community it seems like it was barely walking out the front door! I guess it'll just have to be 12 months or more next time... ;-) Those experiences aren't going to be going away in a hurry - there's no way on earth I'm going to let them!

  14. Reply

    Matt

    November 20, 2010

    Really enjoyed reading this -- while you don't quite know what's next, you know what isn't next. That's the most important thing - knowing that you want to do something that makes you happy. Life is too short to settle for anything less.

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 25, 2010

      Damn right my friend, damn right. If you're settling for anything less than the life you dreamed of, it's time to ask yourself why...

  15. Reply

    Abbey Hesser

    November 25, 2010

    David. First, I can't believe how quickly time flew! You've had such an amazing journey and I know that there's a lot more in store for you soon. Look at me being all nice... maybe Joel was right, I have gone soft... What I meant to say was...

    Buck up cry-baby. Plan your next trip already so we don't have to read all this insightful mushy stuff. And seriously? You think we want to know how often you change your panties? False.

    (Congrats on a successful rtw, you better keep blogging while you're home!)

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 25, 2010

      I heart you Abbey.

  16. Reply

    Sabina

    November 28, 2010

    It is amazing how our feelings and thoughts can be changed by travel. What was important often no longer is. Re-entry can be really hard. As soon as you get a job you can always start saving for your next long-term travels :)

  17. Reply

    Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_

    November 30, 2010

    HAHAHHAHA, yes the attempt at just trying not to die on a motor bike in Asian countries is all too familiar.
    My friends and family are all getting married and having babies, talking about ikea and greys anatomy... I feel your confusion!
    What do I say when people ask "how was your trip"? Well I was gone for a fucking year soooo... read my blog?? haha
    Or when someone tells a story about who they saw in the grocery store... oh wow, haven't seen them in years!
    What do I do? Tell the story how I saw this guy in Phnom Penh that I got drunk with in Peru and how it was so weird he was in Asia now?
    Freaking out man! 2 weeks... only 2 weeks!

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 30, 2010

      Haha you are so right!

      I'm tempted to respond with exactly that when people ask how the trip was - instead I tend to go for 'how long have you got?'. If the answer is anything less than half an hour, I point them to the blog. :-P

      And yeah, maintaining appropriate levels of interest when someone tells me a story about the person they met in the supermarket last week is a struggle to say the least. There's no right way to reply to that kind of thing - recounting my stories from the last six months just prob makes me seem like a pretentious git to people who haven't travelled. Maybe I am, who knows... ;-)

      • Reply

        Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_

        December 3, 2010

        You're not pretentious, you can't help it when people ask you about it - that you actually tell them about it.

  18. Reply

    Lol, 'I'm needing a change of underwear everytime I think about the future..' I feel the same way. That's why I don't think much about the future, much to the shock and horror of parents. But you're absolutely right, life is more interesting that way.

    Unfortunate that I just came across ur blog at the end of your trip, glad to hear that you'll still be participating in the community though.

  19. Reply

    Bendos71

    January 22, 2011

    Great post...stirred up some very potent and uncomfortable memories and feelings.

    I probably went through the same ride of emotions as most others...excitement and a high, followed by a dark, heavy crash. Returning to the real world was not pleasant.

    I started a "proper" job within weeks of returning, and left it after 2 days. I just told the guy I wasn't mentally there. He took it surprisingly well actually and let me go after lunch on day 2.

    A friend was renovating a home at the time so I ended up helping out there. My co-workers were a rag-tag bunch of recently-returned travellers struggling with what the real world had tossed at them. It was a half-way house for damaged travellers.

    A few months of lugging heavy things around (and a daily match of backyard cricket) straightened my head out and got me back on the straight and narrow.

    Until, that was, I received a rather generous tax return cheque a handful of months later. All of a sudden I had the means to hit the road again. A few emails and flights later I was comfortably seated in a bus en-route from Mexico City to Oaxaca.

    A career in travel followed...no surprises there. Doesn't pay that well, but the perks are just what the doctor ordered. Recommended.

    • Reply

      Dave

      January 22, 2011

      Great comment mate, it really is.

      Being back home has been manageable so far, but that's because I've just been hanging out with friends and family, it's summer and I haven't started working yet. In other words, reality hasn't hit. And even then, every time I talk to another travel friend who has just got to somewhere awesome or is planning another fantastic trip somewhere and wants me to come, I feel a gaping void where my metaphorical backpack used to be.

      I'm only looking at contract jobs at the moment - the shorter the better, really - unless they are in the travel sector. There's going to be another trip this year, I can feel it already...

  20. Reply

    Justin

    January 10, 2013

    hey Dave, just ready this AWESOMELY worded post of yours ! it reminds me of my thoughts when i was winding down my own backpacking trip... given, mine was only two months (but for someone who had never been away from any family member for more than 3 days that was a huge amount of time for me).

    for me the trip was all pretty last minute, and easily one of the more spontaneous things i have done in my life. so the reality of what i was doing didn't set in till about half way through... and the gravity of what i had experience and learned throughout those 2 months only really set in a year or two AFTER i got back. that was back in 2007 and to this day (2013) i still catch myself thinking "wow, i still can't believe i did that"

    i would say that YES my trip most certainly DID change my way of thinking, and it has stayed that way even to this day. so much so that i have gone on a major trip (1+ months) every two years sense, and a minor trip (under one month) in between the two major trips. that being said, i'm currently in the beginning stages of planning my biggest trip yet: 4 to 5 months.

    i know this post of yours is a couple years old now, but i figured i would post and add my two cents worth anyway :P


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