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.
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]