Celebrating 2 years of travel! Really random thoughts and other ramblings
As the saying goes, time flies. We all know it. Just take one look at your child’s baby photos or in my case, your travel photos or worse, your own baby photos and the reality of times passage takes hold. It’s a bittersweet moment to remember the times gone by but it also carries with it a hint of sadness that we can never get those minutes back. It helps us to appreciate the moment that is now. These days it’s all too often filled with ‘things to do’ and we rarely get time to slow down or just reflect back. Even while traveling, sometimes I forget to remember all that has passed. Yesterday marked the two year travel anniversary for us and gave me a great opportunity to reflect.
When I look back at the last two years, I am filled with many different emotions. First, I can’t believe that it was just two years ago that I quit my job, sold my possessions and packed up and boarded a plane with a one way ticket for what was supposed to be only a 2 year adventure. I had so many feelings back then, mostly stemming from fear of a big change and the unknown. Would I like it? Would I regret it? Was I crazy? I left my cozy, nice little life in New York to head into a big cloud of uncertainty. Now that passage of time is complete. Does that mean the ‘trip’ is over and I am coming home? Well no, not exactly. The main reason for this is because I have already come home.
Initially, when I have returned to New York (which will always be my home in some ways since I was born there and most of my friends and family live there) for a few visits and over the holidays, I was so excited and overjoyed. I get to see my friends and family! Finally, I can catch up a bit! I get to use soft toilet paper every day! Take hot showers with good pressure! Eat real bagels with cream cheese! Hey, everyone speaks English here! Wait a sec, why am I still saying ‘gracias’ to the bus driver? But after about a week or two, when all the friends and family had been visited and the bagels all finished, I’d start to feel a bit empty. I would start daydreaming about the road again and begin to count the days down until I would return to it.
Last year when I wrote about celebrating one year of travel, I said that I didn’t think the travel changed me. Now I realize how wrong that was. I can’t say it was really wrong because I didn’t see it then but now I realize how different I view things. Not just how things are different in other countries but ways in which I react and feel are vastly different. A simple example comes from when I used to be in a hurry to either see things at a place where I traveled or even just waiting on a line. I used to get frustrated if it didn’t move fast enough. I think to how silly that was now. Those things don’t bother me much at all anymore. Another thing I used to think a lot about was the future or about personal self-development. What goals would I set for myself? What would be the ‘next thing’ I wanted to do? Join a gym? Take up a sport? Start reading self-help books? These days I have no plans, even for the immediate future. It’s the most liberating feeling in the world, for me.
In My Life
The quote I introduced in the beginning of this tirade of emotions helps to sum up a certain thing that I have come to terms with in my life of the past two years. Traveling in this slow, immersing way and especially my visits back home, have cemented my belief that I just don’t fit in back there. I can say that it’s simply because I like to travel but who doesn’t? But would you sell your life for it? Probably not. Some were born to be doctors, teachers or parents. I finally realized that I was born to travel. It sounds terribly cliche but the road is my home. This realization is perhaps the biggest change for me. Now don’t go laughing, let me explain.
Our lives are all shaped by discovery, gratitude and love (among many other things). For many, that means having children and realizing these things through that process. For others, they can get these things through their career, their one passion in life. For me, that just doesn’t work. I’ve recognized myself in the other people I meet while traveling and that has helped me to realize that it’s okay to be like this. It’s okay to want to be a life-long traveler. We are curious, insatiable people that constantly seek out new experience and desire to engage with other cultures. I’ve found my home and my calling and its on the road.
Count Your Lucky Stars
I’ve had a lot of people tell me how ‘lucky’ I am to travel. And it’s absolutely true, for the most part. I feel a lot of gratitude. Seeing and experiencing life and cultures in this way compared to what I knew about other places for the past 40 (yikes!) years doesn’t compare to anything I had read or any photo I have seen. The world is not like it is on TV, movies or in photos. Being there and experiencing it all first-hand is truly amazing! I may not like a lot of things about my country, the USA, but I was lucky to be born in a place that has allowed me the opportunity to work two jobs, save money, buy possessions and then sell them. I am also lucky because having a US passport allows me entry into many countries (sometimes just having to pay a fee or an easy-to-get visa). For citizens of other countries, it’s not so easy. Many countries pay a barely-livable wage just so most can eek out a living.
This is a touchy subject. I know that many people in my own country are starving and can’t afford any luxury whatsoever. There is homeless in every state in the USA. But I have to say, for most US citizens, visa issues are pretty non-existent (unless you want to live/work in another country) and most people earn enough money to get by and even take an occasional vacation. Many claim they have no money to travel, yet drive around in big cars, live in over-sized houses and in general spend a lot on material objects. So it was pure luck that I was born in a country where I had an opportunity to do this. We have absolutely no control over where we are born (or if we are born) at all!
Making travel a priority and working towards this goal for two years was definitely not luck. Just the same as anyone else who had to make decisions and work hard to get there. I worked steadfast toward my goal and made travel an absolute #1 priority. I had to make decisions that others wouldn’t want to in order to be where I am. Not to mention, that in my country, long-term travel is simply not done for the most part. If you have a certain type of career and take a one year sabbatical (which your company usually pays you for and keeps your job), then it’s viewed more positively. But selling your possessions to travel? Most people from the US view that as a crazy thing to do. Travel is not valued the same way like it is in Europe or other countries. Most people from the US get about 3 or 4 weeks total vacation from their jobs per year. The philosophy here is to work and work a lot. Have two jobs? Work a 12 hour day? People say you are a hard worker and it’s viewed very positively. Most long-term travelers I have met are from other countries in Europe, UK or Australia/New Zealand. In fact, I have only met two other long-term US travelers during my 2 years here.
We all have to endure the negative aspects of a decision in order to reap the rewards. Hopefully the rewards can always weigh out greater. It’s the same for everyone reading this. If you chose to be a doctor, you had to endure 8 years of schooling, working very long hours and probably putting your social life on the back burner for a long time until you achieved your goal. If you chose to be a parent, you had to endure sleepless nights, temper tantrums and other unpleasantries in order to feel the joys of parenthood. We all have our priorities in life and there are always negative sides to every choice we make. It’s how much of that bad shit we are willing to put up with in order to reap the good rewards that counts.
If you think I am sitting on a beach every day with a coco loco in my hand, you are wrong! Sure, we have moments like that but much of our time is spent trying to sleep in a cramped bus with some guys seat full-throttle in the asshole position in my lap or trying to figure out the best way not to sound like an ass in a foreign language. I’ve become a master at pointing, sign language (my own) and am admittedly fully addicted to earplugs (there are worse addictions, lets face it). I have had days where we ran out of money, couldn’t find an ATM, were starving and in a foreign city where no one speaks a familiar language. Enduring it all in the pouring rain with a prospective 18 hour bus ride that night (surely with an asshole in the aforementioned asshole-position). Not to mention some bus rides have been more than 24 hours straight! It could make a good man go bad.
Although not easy, these experiences helped me to discover much about myself. It’s always the negative experiences that help shape us and discover our true selves. How you react when you your toddler is screaming in the middle of the supermarket with stares piercing you or how you react when your patient starts to turn blue, says a lot more about your character than how you enjoyed the sunset last night!
Just like everyone else, I have my trade-offs too. Long term travel is work and full of trade-offs but the things that I enjoy far outweigh uncomfortable moments. There are many days where Laurent and I hunker down in a hostel just to work on photos or write. Some of the more uncomfortable moments are exactly what has defined me as a traveler and human being. But despite people saying to me ‘wow, you are in a inspiration’ or ‘you are so lucky to travel the world’, I feel just as ordinary as everyone else and to be honest, most people wouldn’t really enjoy long-term travel if they knew what it entailed. Unless, of course you are a ‘lifer’. If you feel absolutely addicted to travel and you are planning trip after trip and get the blues when you go back home-you might just be a lifer. But If traveling has taught me one thing, it’s that we are all pretty much the same.
We Are Only Human After All
Well why in the heck would I have to travel the world to figure that one out? Seems almost anti-climatic but it’s not. It’s exactly the realization that we are all human with the same complex and difficult emotions, aspirations and lives that moves me. Culture is an expression of a place and I love to discover the relationships between landscapes, foods and people. It doesn’t matter that we are all the same, what matters to me most is this sense of discovery on pretty much a daily basis. Seeing these things and writing about them, especially in terms of food, is my passion. I travel and want to keep traveling because we are all the same and the expression is different. I travel because I am an insatiably curious person who needs to travel. I used to feel like saying that aloud made me sound like someone who didn’t know what they wanted to do. I was afraid to admit it. Even after hopping a plane to travel indefinitely, I still had fears. I was still afraid of what others thought. But after meeting so many ‘lifers’ like me, I know that I am not alone.
There are so many others that I have been thankful to meet that showed me that we are not freaks, we simply have a deep-rooted need to travel. I call them ‘travel-lifers’ and people I can usually feel an instant, deep bond with. Those that have been hooked on the travel. I was one even before I took this trip. I probably ‘caught the disease’ after my first trip out of the country to Iceland way back when I was 23. They call it a ‘travel bug’ for a reason. You catch the fever and it seizes hold of you. Ever since then, I dreamed of more travel. The more I traveled, the more I loved it. I longed to travel more slowly, to have more time. I always felt like I wanted more time. While I was happy to be back in my bed and see friends and family after a trip, I couldn’t wait to get back on the road. As soon as I was settled back into my work routine, I would begin planning my next getaway.
Over the years and especially the last two, I have come to recognize my fellow people. A knowing glance is all it takes these days. And thankfully I am dating one. Laurent is just as much of a lifer as I am. And perhaps that is what initially attracted me to him in the first place. Knowing we share this common bond and foundation will no doubt help us continue our future of travel. He is one thing I am grateful for on a daily basis and has become my best friend and someone I can depend on in any and all situations. We spend more time together than probably two humans should but have come out stronger for it. I’ve traveled by myself in the past (and totally recommend that everyone do that at least once in your life) but nothing compares to the camaraderie that I’ve felt experiencing this adventure with him. The shared experience is always powerful, especially when so acute as this has been. It’s created an extremely strong bond between the two of, which I am very grateful for.
Into The Great Wide Open
And even though society is set up more for people who want to be a parent, get married, have a house or have a successful career, it is possible for the ‘lifers’ to continue to travel if they want to. It’s taken me a long time to realize that. It’s certainly not easy and way more challenging than if you want to lead a more conventional life but it can be done. Not that anyone’s life could really be considered conventional-we all have our differences and quirks that make each life unique and something to be celebrated. But there unfortunately remains a stigma attached to people who want to travel indefinitely. That they can’t be satisfied with the simple things in life or worse, that we must be running away from something. And the thought of being able to make a living as a digital-nomad is seen as something too unrealistic. People ask what you are going to do about your ‘career’ or ‘gaps’ on your resume.
Which brings me to our plans for the future. At this moment in time, we want to keep traveling. Perhaps in two or three years we’ll feel different but for right now the plan is to figure out how to keep this going. How are we going to manage that? Well, I can’t reveal it all now but we’ve got a few ideas in the works! A large part is completely unknown and super scary but at the same time very exciting. Stay tuned!!
Sorry for all my ramblings and random thoughts but the reason I started this blog was to get it all out in the moment and to hopefully inspire some of you out there too. Now, I’m not saying go sell all your possessions and hit the road. Most of you would, honestly, probably hate it. But I’m sure there are a few lifers out there too, and if you are one, maybe you could think about ways to make travel a priority too. Trust me, if I can do this, anyone can. I was initially scared out of my wits and as set in my life as I thought I could be. I had a comfortable and enjoyable life back in New York. If I can push past those fears, so can you.
What I hope most of you can take away is facing your fears. And who cares what anyone thinks? Those are the two greatest things I have realized over the past two years. That and the realization that I can keep going if I choose to. I try to push myself out of my comfort zone as much as I can. For me, it’s the greatest way to get to know myself. I look back and I can’t believe all of the things I’ve enjoyed just by pushing myself. I’ve become a better person for it.
But you don’t have to sell your stuff and travel indefinitely to figure that out. What scares you the most? Suss it out and tackle it head on. Or better yet, what makes you feel really alive? Travel makes me feel like I am really living. All my senses are heightened and I feel full of life and energy. What gives you energy? What makes you feel truly alive? Figure it out and don’t be afraid, just get out there and do it! Don’t wait for the time to be ‘right’. It’s never going to be. You’ll always want/need more money or something else. We are not guaranteed a tomorrow. The time is now! Make it happen!
I’d also like to mention something else that I’ve enjoyed the benefits of. Simplifying life, getting rid of lots of unnecessary stuff. Whittling it down to one backpack is probably too extreme for most and I certainly don’t recommend that! But the next time you think you need something, think carefully. In this world of excess, doing without certain material things allows us more time to focus on the things that matter most. I can’t tell you how freeing it has been to let go of so many of my material possessions. They really don’t matter that much. Yes, even that bed!
Enough with all the introspection! Right now I am going to count my blessings so let me take this moment to celebrate! I have been very fortunate to experience life in this part of the world for the past two years. In the next post, I am going to take a look back at some of the best moments of our second year of travel. Just the highlights! Sorry, no photos of me trapped in a bus for 30 hours! For those who followed us last year too, a big thanks. We hope to eek out a few more years of living our dream.