I have just six more days left before my long journey around the world ends. The finality of that statement pains me a little inside, because I had dreamed of this, planned for it, and now lived it. And this era is nearly over.
These past 11 months flew by so quickly—at a lightning pace no matter how much I slowed down. Time progressed and the year rocketed past me. And as quickly as it seems to have passed, at the same time, it really does feel like a whole lot has happened. The backpackers I have met this past month driving around Ireland all ask a similar question, how do I feel now that the adventure is ending.
I feel a conflicted sadness. My family will be at the airport to welcome me home. I will hug my niece and nephews and marvel at how they’ve grown in one short year. And I’ll sit around a table drinking beers and sharing stories with my hometown friends that I’ve known since high school.
We’ll surely pick up right where we left off, but I am not returning home the same person who left this time last year. Travel has been my way of life for months on end. It’s a lifestyle ingrained deeply into the fabric of my every waking moment for more than 320 days.
I’ve perfected the art of traveling long-term.
I can perfectly pack my backpack in precisely six minutes, and that’s with a headlamp on and a piece of toast in one hand! And next week, I’ll no longer need that skill, which was hard-learned and a source of pride. If it takes just 21 days to develop a habit, I’m habituated to travel and I wonder how long it take to re-acclimate to home.
Traveling through English speaking countries these past two months will surely ease the transition. When I first arrived in England, I had this culture shock moment that stopped me in my tracks. I had just left my housesit in charming Amsterdam, where, sure, they speak great English to travelers, but it’s not the native tongue of the land. For the first time since I left Australia, that very first stop on my RTW trip, I was back in an English-speaking country. So there I am strolling through Hyde Park in downtown London, and I overhear a casual conversation between two elderly women chattering on a nearby bench. It was inane chatter, just wisping fragments of thoughts reached me.
And all of a sudden, it hit me that I could understand them. My brain hiccuped at the intrusion of another person’s casual thoughts marching alongside my quiet walk. I was back in a place where I could hear and comprehend snippets of conversation around me. Throughout the year, apparently acclimating to a foreign world meant that my brain had stopped attempting to translate and understand everything around me. I took in most of my information by people-watching or reading books, learning things only when I directly sough the information. Like proverbial frog in water, I hadn’t even realized the change as it happened, but I had grown more accustomed to the foreign tongue and the general hum of incomprehensible conversation than to my native language.
It floored me. I’ve changed my sensory input on an almost minute-by-minute basis for nearly a year. The person who goes home to quiet suburbia and slips back into old friendships—I’m not sure I know how to do that, at least not instinctively anymore.
To call that realization less than culture shock would do it a disservice, because it surely was that. And it’s one hurdle now understood, if not overcome … because the think Irish and Scottish brogues have me scratching my head on the regular!
Confession: Until I returned to an English-speaking country I never realized how much work it takes to communicate, how much of my days were spent just getting across questions, information, and ideas. It’s nice to be easily understood. Really nice.
Looking Ahead after a Year of Traveling the World
Ho hum. I will surely cry on the plane next week. It’s already been happening when I think of the enormity of what I did and the finality of boarding a plane home.
I am a bit of a crier, and even if I continue to travel, this is the end period closing out my yearlong trip. Although I already plan to continue traveling in January—I have my online work and so how can I truly stop now?!—I don’t plan to travel for more than six months at a time anymore. I miss seeing the kids I love grow up, so I plan to make the US my frequent base for future travels.
That’s not an indictment on the yearlong trip, however. No, six months just wouldn’t have done it. Because there were times when I desperately wanted to cut the trip short. When I felt loneliness on the road, sickness, and when I thought about packing up and buying a ticket home.
But that would have prevented me from truly learning some key lessons about myself, who I am, and why I took my trip around the world. Once you make it past the eight-month mark of a RTW trip, that’s when I think everything cranks up a notch. That’s when it all started to really sink in, let’s say.
The stories this month on A Little Adrift are still about my time backpacking the UK and Scotland, but I am in my final week of my nearly month spent driving around the Emerald Isle. I fly home next Thursday out of Dublin airport and between now and then I have every intention of enjoying every second of toe-tappingly great Irish music and even a few more pints of Guinness. :-)
On the health front, I am ending on a lousy note as I recover from a severe cold that I caught during a cold-front while I was exploring Dingle. Not a great way to end it all, but the Irish are so friendly that I just can’t imagine a more lovely way to meditate on this transition than all of the hiking I’m doing around Connemara and the Aran Islands.
Confession: I’ve traveled solo since Amsterdam. A few of you emailed asking about my cousin—she is back home now in the Pacific Northwest. She left the trip early because of interpersonal conflict between us, and because she was just ready to be home, I think. We didn’t part as friends. I am deeply sorry for that. Hopefully with some time we can talk out what happened, but for now my cousin is likely happy to be home in a comfortable bed after a long four months backpacking across South Asia and Eastern Europe.
So with a lot of time in my own head now, I’m actually enjoying the quiet solitude of hiking and driving around so I can muck through all of the complicated emotions swirling through me. I will end this round the world trip the way I started—just me, a pair of chacos, my backpacks, and a great big smile.