We never set out on this trip to ‘find ourselves’ or have some sort of profound spiritual experience, we simply wanted to experience different cultures, see some amazing sights and above all else have a great time. For us, the emphasis was on having fun rather than discovering some deep new meaning to our lives, shallow but true! That said, I can safely say that long term travel has changed me for the better and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. Today marks the 365th day of our adventure and I feel like a completely different person to the one boarding that plane to Calgary in 2012.
Appreciating the small things
I’m incredibly grateful for the small things in life now and I cringe at how I used to behave when it came to hoarding the dreaded ‘stuff’. At my worst, my shopping habit ran into 3 or 4 outings a week (it’s dangerous when your office is 5 minutes from the town centre!) and I still remember how the spare room was covered in bags from stores that I’d not even opened when I got home. Tons of clothes with labels still on that I’d bought to fill the soul hole and just forgotten about.
Saving for travel purged me of this and the only piece of clothing I bought in the year pre-travel was a pair of jeans because mine had gotten a hole in them. Since we’ve been traveling this has grown in a way I didn’t think possible. I absolutely love that all my worldly goods fit into a couple of bags! I appreciate tiny, ridiculous things that we take for granted as westerners. The toilet having a flush rather than a bucket and ladle or the shower having a tiny trickling stream of hot water. The wonderful feeling of picking up freshly laundered clothes after declaring that you simply can’t wear that t shirt another day.
I’m really hoping that after a few years of this I can avoid slipping back into my old ways. Don’t get me wrong, I will be overjoyed to see my comfortable home again but I really hope I don’t get the urge to buy every unnecessary new thing that the great powers of advertising put in my way! I had to seriously resist slipping back into my old ways in the shopping mecca of Hoi An in Vietnam recently but was actually sensible and stuck to a pre-written shopping list for things that we actually needed, the only concession to my old ways was a new (and ridiculously cheap) winter coat.
View of the world
I now realise how truly ignorant I was about world events. I made an effort to watch and read the news every day but those stories felt like they were happening a million miles away and the people almost didn’t seem real. Spending extended time in a number of countries lets you appreciate how their people see things and makes the stories you’ve read about come to life.
Talking face to face with people that have grown up under the Chinese Communist regime or the lovely Iranian geologist we met who has spent his life travelling for work and is now met with visa restrictions or absolute rejections because of his government’s actions. Heartbreakingly, talking to the many people we’ve met that were effected by the devastating Boxing Day Tsunami and learning about how Laos and Vietnam suffered horribly through what we know as the Vietnam War. All of these experiences have made me realise that instead of it being background noise in my little bubble I need to pay a hell of a lot more attention to what is going on a around the globe.
I’m far happier and far more realistic about my future now. I’ve always been a dreamer and that absolutely won’t change when it comes to certain aspects of my life. Those dreams have led me to achieve an awful lot from fairly humble beginnings, including this trip and for that I am very grateful. However, the main question that has been hanging over our heads this whole trip is “what are you going to do when you get back?” Sadly, it was the most asked question before we’d even left and pretty much every person we met in the U.S was concerned that we’d be out on the streets after quitting our jobs!
My completely honest answer throughout has been “I don’t know” I didn’t know if we’d want to open a beach shack bar in Thailand or if we’d be desperate to get back to a normal 9 to 5. What I do know now is that none of things I enjoy doing as hobbies will become my career. I’m ok with being alright at photography and being able to string a sentence together for this blog but I’m not passionate enough to pursue either as a career. I’ve realised that I enjoy my hobbies as they are, something you do for fun in your spare time. I’m comfortable with the thought of ending up back in an office but I do know that I want to feel like I’ve achieved something every day and really made a contribution to whatever I’m working on. The rest will just have to wait and see…
I’m really making a concerted effort to recognise my faults and do something about them, travelling allows so much thinking time and that inevitably leads to self reflection. I still get stressed over unimportant things and am a massive hot head, it’s one of my biggest flaws. You have to learn to be patient when travelling, you can’t get angry every time something is late or the price isn’t what you expected, hopefully this will bode well for my return!
I’m still very opinionated but am really trying to not get wound up about it, everyone is entitled to an opinion and I’m learning to just shut up and listen. It’s been great meeting so many different people and learning about their views of the world and the differences in opinion make for the best late night chats.
I’m fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been, despite consuming a vast quantity of Asian food! We eat so much better now, fresh and healthy foods are the norm and I’m not constantly poisoning my body with takeout. When we were enjoying the hiking portion of our trip we spent 7 months doing quite strenuous exercise every day. Now, I’m still walking or swimming every day and quite often lugging 17kg on my back! I’m also really looking forward to getting to the South American mountains and pushing my physical limits as far as they will go with the culmination of the 25 mile rim to rim at the Grand Canyon in the United States.
It’s made me realise that when I do get home and if I end up sitting at a desk again I need to make a concerted effort to exercise in my down time. Easier said than done in the cold winters but just the memory of how I feel right now should help.
The big thing
This is the big thing I was looking for. I remember having a really depressing conversation with my brother-in-law and his fiancé back in 2009. They had been travelling for around 5 years by that point and I said that I was worried about getting to 40 and wondering what I’d done with the last 20 years. We were all talking about travel and Paul adamantly stated that he would never want to do it, I remember being horrified that I might never get my big adventure that I’d always dreamed about.
Now, I’m so incredibly grateful to have spent the last 12 months seeing more than some people will see in their lifetime. I’m satisfied for the first time in a really long time and it feels great! I’m actually really looking forward to having a home again, this has been the greatest experience of my life but we’re at a stage in life where our priorities are changing. There are still tons of places we want to visit (unfortunately the list just gets even longer the more you travel) but I know now that when we return home in October I’ll be happier doing shorter trips and I also realise we have many other exciting things to look forward to. It’s been a great gift having the opportunity to see some of the greatest wonders of this world and experience some of the most interesting cultures, I have to pinch myself sometimes to remember that we really have seen and done all of these magical things. It’s something I will never take for granted and I will treasure for the rest of my life.
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