I know, I know. I swore up and down I wouldn’t be one of those people who abruptly stopped writing on their blog once they returned home. But that’s exactly what I went and did.
In my pre-trip daydreaming days, it used to drive me insane when I’d be following along with someone’s travels and then suddenly would be cut off. Sure, there’d be posts that would pop up six months later, promising updates and future writings, but then they’d trail off again. So I won’t even pretend to make a commitment as to whether this will be a regular thing or just a little blip. But I miss writing. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve written posts in my head since we returned home. Often times I’d just be distracted by something shiny, and never finish the thought. Other times I’d just struggle to find the words to articulate my feelings about being home. Tonight I felt like writing so I did.
As of last month, we have been home for two years. We’ve been back home longer than we were gone. For a while, absolutely everything in our lives felt up in the air. For all of the lessons learned during our travels about not worrying so much, that things have a way of working out, I was having major difficulty coming to terms with the fact that my post-trip plan was going awry in a major way. Other than some freelance work, I was unemployed for a year and a half. Being unemployed and traveling is one thing; being unemployed and job searching while everyone else is at work is quite another. Each day brought a crushing mixture of boredom, loneliness, and soul searching, and I was losing confidence by the day. For over a year we didn’t hang a single thing on the white walls of our rental because we weren’t sure if we were staying. On top of that, we decided we shouldn’t put off trying to have children any longer. Each month I was (still am) simultaneously terrified I would get pregnant and terrified I wouldn’t, and fighting the growing sense that any illusion of control I had over the process was just that, an illusion. I felt confused. In travel blog land, taking a trip like The Trip was supposed to catapult you into a life where you shun all desire for material possessions, get in touch with your inner soul and passion, and create a life with meaning and purpose not bound by the walls of a house or office. Distancing myself from my hometown and circle of family, friends and acquaintances forced me to examine my inner motivations and desires. While it did shed some light on the life I wanted to lead and the realization that no one but me would create the portions of the life I was not currently experiencing, I never found the clear sense of inner enlightenment others appeared to have.
I suppose it makes me a bad traveler that finding a job working for the man and thereby admitting that I do, at least in part, define myself by my career and crave external validation of my worth, but I can’t deny that finding a job is what brought on some sense of peace. And I’m okay with that. I don’t know how much our travels affected my job hunt. It didn’t affect Sean’s in the least; his employer didn’t even ask him about our trip in his interview. I’m sure some employers were turned off by the crazy person who quit her job to travel the world, but I found most were just curious. I was being selective in a not so good economy, but in the end I found a job with the two criteria I was looking for most: spending my working hours doing something that (hopefully) makes a positive impact on the world and a job that allows me (most days) to have a life outside of work. I’m working as a child welfare attorney at a non-profit – it is about as opposite from my old firm job in every way, good and bad.
The Trip, as it has become known, seems like a movie we watched about someone else’s lives, yet not a single day goes by without some memory or connection to our trip popping up in some fashion. It changed us in countless ways: some superficial, like a higher tolerance for supremely spicy food; some deeper, like giving us confidence to choose to do things our own way instead of the way everyone else does things. It altered the way we understand world news, it changed our perspective on what we need in life, and it gave us a better understanding of human nature. It pushes us to continue to live outside our comfort zones and to create our own happiness. I don’t think it is a coincidence we both are doing little things to challenge ourselves. Sean ran his first half-marathon (and was training for the Pittsburgh Marathon until he hurt his knee) and is learning yoga. I ran my first 5K (which is pretty much a marathon in my world), joined a beer-loving women’s group where I didn’t know anyone, and turned a job offer that was perfect for a million reasons on paper because it didn’t feel right. And it is fantastic to be surrounded by friends and family, particularly with a new pint-sized addition in the form of a super cute nephew.
So I’d say we’re both pretty happy. We’re certainly enjoying our lives much more than we did before we left.
We both feel a restlessness deep down that we can’t figure out how to address. We recognize that life can’t always be so dramatic as the year we sold our house, quit our jobs, and hit the road. And neither one of us wants to pick up and take off for good tomorrow. But we can’t help having this nagging feeling that we don’t want our lives to be defined by Before Trip and After Trip. Otherwise the most awesome thing we’ve ever done and ever will do is already over, and that just can’t be.
So that’s what we’re up to: enjoying the stability that being at home brings, but feeling its limitations as well.
Of course, we’ve hit the road as much as possible. Six months after we got home, we skipped across the pond and finally went to Italy just before Christmas, spending ten glorious days eating our way through Rome and Naples.
Last summer, we dug out our passports again, this time for a weekend trip to our neighbor to the north, visiting Niagara Falls and Toronto.
In July, we reminded ourselves that domestic travel can be pretty awesome as well in a nine day road trip through Oregon and Northern California.
In December, we headed to Curacao in the Caribbean for our first underwater exploration since Hawaii.
And, finally, we just returned from a trip to a new frontier for us: South America. We spent 16 fantastic days in Brazil, exploring urban life in Rio de Janiero, taking a peek at the seaside colonial town of Paraty, “hunting” for jaguars in the Pantanal, and tasting, seeing and hearing African culture in Salvador.
We’ve returned with a big hole in our pocketbooks (Brazil is expensive – true story!), depleted vacation banks at work, an insatiable desire for caipirinhas and samba music, and a renewed case of wanderlust. I’m glad spring gave way to summer while we were gone, making it easier to look forward to the coming sun drenched days ahead instead of just daydreaming about our next trip. The choice we’ve made for now is to try to curate a life with balance of trips with a lower case “t”, day to day pleasures at home, and work and responsibility, and we’re still learning how best to do that.
So, that’s all for now. I hope you are well. I hope you are exploring and creating your happiness day by day. I hope you have the courage to leap outside what you feel you ought to do to go somewhere or do something where the end of the story is not yet written.
p.s. A while back, I put together an album with 180 photos from The Trip. Check it out!
p.p.s. Last summer, I came across this poster twice within a few weeks, first in a bathroom of a winery in Oregon and second in a dressing room of a small shop in my neighborhood. Both times, I was struck how well it summed up the lessons I learned on The Trip. I took it as a sign and bought a copy for my living room wall in case I ever need a reminder (which, in turn, spurred me on to hang other things up to make our rented rowhouse look more like a home).