Back to Life, Back to Reality

Remember this Soul II Soul song? 

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So, we’re adapting back to life in the U.S. and it feels great to be back. Lots of people have asked us the same questions.

Do you wish you were still out there on the road? 
 

Actually, no. We were ready to come home – the timing felt just right. After all, one year is a very long time, and it felt like the longest year of our lives. In our normal working lives the weeks and months fly by but in our travel lives we were experiencing different things every day – we made it count.

Would you do it again?
 

While there are so many more places in the world we still want to travel to, we’re not interested in traveling for an entire year again. It’s sort of like an itch that had to be scratched…and now we’ve scratched it. Having wanted to go to so many of these places for so many years, in some ways I feel like I just went on an all-out binge, and now I’m ready to detox! Ha.

How are we settling back into life in the U.S.? Any reverse culture shock?
 

I can’t say we’ve experienced it, though we got a huge kick out of certain things upon our return. We touched down for three days in Honolulu before flying into New York to spend time with my family, and then Maryland to spend time with Root’s family.  We were delighted to walk around with the benefit of real sidewalks and streetlights again. Just walking a few blocks and crossing the street was a real challenge in Asia, without the benefit of the infrastructure we take for granted in America where the government has the wealth and will to do more to enhance the quality of life for its citizens.

One night we went out to dinner and found the waitress to be incredibly jarring. The kind of service we’re accustomed to in America – it’s so different from the rest of the world. It didn’t take but a minute for the server to come over and loudly welcome us, introduce herself and give us the run down of specials. Ordering was simple – she understood ever word we said. She checked on us periodically through the meal. Everything we ordered came quickly. We were able to pay for the meal with a credit card (in fact – we could now use plastic again to pay for EVERYTHING.) The whole experience just made us laugh.

Other things… we get to wear jeans again! And other clothes too! The Internet and indoor plumbing – it works! Everything is just so damn easy.

Consumer Culture, and Having STUFF Again

The other striking thing about home to us was stores. We walked into a CVS to pick up a couple things and it felt massive. Clean and neat with nice wide aisles, and dozens of shampoos to choose from, and so brightly lit! A light bulb went on over my head: this whole operation is set up to make you want to BUY. It’s powerful, it's all shiny and gleaming and it draws you in. Nevermind whether or not you really need all these things… you WANT them… you’re subconsciously tricked into wanting stuff. 

By the time we were ready to move into a temporary rental in D.C. we had accumulated so much stuff we were overwhelmed and stressed. There was the suitcase of stuff we left at my parent's house, a suitcase of stuff we left at Root’s parent's (that didn’t fit into our storage pod), a large duffle bag of things I had bought around the world and mailed home, Root’s tools and laptop and other misc things we left at his parent’s house, Christmas gifts, and more. We had to rent a car to travel from New York to Maryland. We had to have Root’s parents follow us in their car to our D.C. rental because we couldn’t fit everything in our Mini Cooper. (OK, so the car doesn’t fit much, but still…)

It all makes you realize what a double-edged sword it is. Stuff makes you happy, but it’s also a huge burden.
 

Americans are incredibly attached to their stuff, and we’re not immune to it either. But it’s something we’re committed to keeping in check as we move towards settling down again.

The whole tiny house movement is so fascinating to me (Google “tiny house” to see what I’m talking about) as a reaction to out-of-control consumerism. So instead of working yourself to death to afford a huge house and all it’s associated costs and fill it with loads of stuff you don’t even have the time to enjoy, you buy a tiny house and focus on getting more out of life. 

First World Medical Care

If you’re a faithful reader of this blog, you know by now how much more we value our health and medical care. On Christmas morning, we had to take my sweet 94-year-old grandmother to the hospital…she had developed some kind of infection. She had a fever and couldn’t keep any food down. It was heartbreaking to see her like this but within a couple of hours at the hospital her fever was down and she was getting excellent care. A nice woman walked into her room at one point who was the hospitality coordinator. She was there to take care of non-medical things for my grandmother – like making sure her phone and TV worked – all in an effort to make her more comfortable.

I was floored. First World medical care… it’s like a fantasy world compared to some of the places we visited. (And by the way my grandmother is fine and doing just great now!)

Two-Month Breather

We realized it didn’t exactly make sense to come home for the holidays and rush to see everyone and jump right into the road trip. We decided to take a two-month break in D.C. to catch our breath, visit more with family and friends, make a little money to build back the bank account, and get things in order before heading out West. Our plan now is to get on the road on March 1 and spend around four weeks driving our car out to Portland, Oregon. We’ll take a Southerly route, stopping in places like Savanna and New Orleans, Arizona and New Mexico. Hopefully, the weather will be a bit warmer too – we are so cold here !! 

New Digs

We found a great furnished rental through Airbnb.com. We have the top (attic) floor of a house off 16th Street, 7 blocks from downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. The owner rents out two other rooms in the house so it feels like a cross between a group house, homestay and a hostel. There were two guys from Paris who stayed for a week, and there's a guy from San Diego who is re-locating to D.C. It’s really quiet though, and the owner isn’t here much. It felt strange at first, but I knew that feeling would go away within a few days. After traveling so much last year our ability to adapt is greater than ever, and I noticed after a few days somewhere I settled in. In some places I felt so comfortable, I really didn’t want to leave.

(ABOVE: The room we're currently staying in – in D.C.)

Working World

Root is consulting with the same company he was working for before we left. I am trying something new – volunteering for a non-profit and helping them with marketing communications, fundraising and events. I’m not gonna lie… sitting down to work for eight hours is hard, but we’re adjusting back to that old and familiar routine. Still, we’re taking Fridays off to have time for the other things.

So Much Has Happened

Catching up with family and friends, we know we’re not the only ones who experienced major life events. While we were half a world away life went on. Our nieces grew up. People broke up. There were health problems, new pregnancies, new jobs, new engagements, and so much more. A lot can happen in year, no matter where you are.

What Feels Different

Imagine you’re having a great time at a New Year’s party at your friend’s house. You’re planning to crash there but at some point you learn your car has been towed. Bummer, right? This actually happened to us, and you know it sucked and it was expensive too. But I just shook my head, half-laughed and said to Root “Man – we’re back home and we’re STILL dealing with stuff like this.” And he said, “Yeah, but we’ve dealt with so much worse.”

At my core, I don’t feel like a different person, but my perspective has changed radically. While traveling the world is one way to do this, you don’t need to go on a trip like we did to gain new perspective. All you have to do is venture a little bit outside “your bubble.” Challenge yourself to break your routine, try something new, meet new people, become a mentor or volunteer, seek new knowledge or gain a new skill, go out into nature and get some quiet time alone, keep a journal, turn off the TV and read more, talk to your grandparents. 

The perspective I’ve gained from the trip is the thing I value the most. It’s like I’ve been given a pair of new glasses in which to see the world. I got out of my bubble for a little while and now I appreciate certain things more and some things less. I get upset by certain things more and some things less. I know that travel, as in life, is filled with ups and downs and that’s the awful beautiful reality. I hope I never lose that perspective.

 

 

The Ups and Downs of Travel

For every blog post we publish I have at least five more in my head. I’ve been writing this particular one in my head all year and I just can’t let the year end without sharing it with you. 

When Maya Angelo passed away in May, a friend posted a quote of hers on Facebook whereby she poetically described the extraordinary ups and downs in her life:

"I had a lot of clouds, but I had so many rainbows."
 

And it’s funny because only a couple weeks earlier I‘d thought about this as a way to describe the ups and downs of round-the-world, long-term travel. The tough moments are inextricably linked to the amazing ones, in the same way that rainbows are not possible without rain, and rain not possible without clouds. In other words, you have to weather some storms to see the rainbows. And when you do, it’s brilliant.

A rainbow in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

When we set out to do this thing, I knew it’d be tough. I figured it’d be the hardest thing I’d ever done. I expected there would times when things would just completely suck. But my attitude was, “bring it on, I’m ready.”

Well, it was even tougher than I imagined.

Before we even left the country:

One day we rented some mountain bikes to explore the caves and otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia. We were having the most amazing day and had paused to take a photo when I heard a horrible sound: “Ssssssssss…..”  My front tire went flat, and we were a very, very long way from town. We had no other choice but to walk the bike all the way back. Minutes later a freakish fierce wind and rainstorm blew in, making the experience that much more enjoyable. When we told the guy we rented the bikes from about the tire he rudely barked, “Oh, and you think that’s my fault?”

Riding bikes in Cappadocia, Turkey

One morning in the Serengeti, we were supposed to be packed and ready to go on a game drive by 6:00 and forgot to set our alarm. Someone came to our tent and woke us up. We panicked and got ready quick but I was horrified at the thought of holding up our entire group for this special day. You could feel the resentment in the air and I just wanted to crawl up into a ball somewhere and die. Then we drove out into the savanna and saw the most beautiful sunrise I’d ever seen. The sun was an orange red ball rising in the classic African landscape – it was breathtaking. Every day in Africa was like this… highs and lows, with moments that both amazed and tested us.

Sunrise in the Serengeti

In Istanbul it was pouring rain on the day we were headed to the airport to fly to Prague. We were walking the old streets of the city with our backpacks, trying to get a taxi. The taxi drivers guys are notorious for trying to rip you off, so we had to talk with three before getting one to agree on a reasonable price. As I went to open the car door and get in, I stepped in a hole in the street masked by a puddle of rainwater and fell. I sprained my ankle and immediately felt the pain, both physically and emotionally. How was I going to walk around Prague – a city I had so desperately wanted to visit for the past 20 years – like this?

A rainbow in Prague

Singapore’s most famous icon is the half-lion, half-fish Merlion, seen here under renovation

Here’s a classic one… you make your way over to see a major site and it’s closed or under renovation. Like the time we went to see the famous Merlion in Singapore.

Or you don’t even make it there. Yesterday in Hawaii, a guy in our dorm room told us he was looking so forward to visiting this spectacular waterfall. He trekked for nearly five hours through steep, muddy terrain and dense forest and never found it.

The disappointment you feel when things like this happen is amplified when you’ve traveled so far from home to see or experience this thing. So the question is…how do you deal with it?

Some say you can protect yourself from disappointment by lowering your expectations. Or you can look for what’s positive about the situation or what you learned from it and feel grateful for the experience. You can simply shrug and laugh it off. Or move immediately to solving the problem.

My feeling is – it’s ok to have great expectations and it’s ok to feel upset when these things happen; maybe even whine and complain a little bit – you’re human. 
 

But you do have to move on and get over it. You do have to accept that these things are part of the travel experience. Travel and vacation are two different things. A round-the-world trip will yield extraordinary experiences but it won’t resemble anything like a vacation.

Still, there is one thing that solves practically everything: TIME.
 

When things go wrong, or the weather turns bad, when you get sick or lost… it’s no problem when you have more time (or the flexibility to modify your plans). I was laid up for two days in Prague but all was not lost since we had planned 10 days there. The weather was windy when we originally planned our hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia but we had time to re-schedule it on a better day. In Laos we weren’t so lucky when we waited until our last day to take a boat ride on the Mekong and couldn’t because we had fallen sick the night before. 

Time not only solves things… it heals and transforms.
 

With enough time, your most frustrating moments morph into your funniest travel stories. Your scariest moments reveal strength you didn’t know you had. Your awe-inspiring moments outweigh the awful ones in your memory. And you feel gratitude. You really do.