Midnight of August 15, 2012, the last flight of my round the world trip touched down Ninoy Aquino International Airport, making the official count on the number of consecutive days away from home, 435. What a ride it had been!
For many people 14 months of traveling would seem like a long time. Some of my relatives couldn’t even begin to imagine how it is done.
“What are you going to do about your laundry?” one of my aunt asked. “How much clothes are you bringing with you? Oh my god, you’re going to be wearing the same thing over and over again.” a horrified cousin exclaimed. The whole scenario still so fresh in my mind yet too soon, I was on my last flight home. Hell, it’s been a month since I’m back.
How is it being home?
Is clearly everyone’s first question. Curiously it was so normal. I really thought it’s going to be a lot stranger. I knew it — one year isn’t long enough! So apart from the weeklong jet lag, I pretty much got back into the groove of things right away. I’m at the office the day after, picking up right where my sister Candie left off as she took her turn on holiday.
Later I realized why. Why should it be hard for me to adjust being back, if at all, when my whole trip is a constant change. On the average, I’m in one place for 5 days and then I’m off to a new city, or country, or continent. But neither am I always on a rush somewhere. Sometimes I stay put longer, like I was in San Jose, Costa Rica for a whole month with my hostel stint. In Sucre, Bolivia more than 2 weeks studying Spanish. So it’s not like I feel imprisoned staying in one place for more than a week. I’d have sporadic yearnings for my traveling life, missing the extreme freedom, the anonymity and the constantly changing tomorrows, but generally I’m fine being home. At the moment, at least.
The Traveling Life
While I didn’t need time to adjust being back, I have to say it took some time to get used to the idea of long term traveling life. In fact, I remember that when I met Raz in Tel-Aviv (my first stop), I felt like a poser. About 4 years before, we met in the Philippines while he was backpacking Asia. It was funny, for both of us, sitting across each other in a restaurant, this time our roles reversed. Maybe he felt a little bit of a poser himself. It must be the Catholic cum middle class Chinese family upbringing that sends me nagging guilt for being so free of responsibilities.
Acclimation, however, is my middle name. Soon I am so at home on the road that it’s normal to have cavity inducing mint tea for breakfast in Marrakech, and the richest Belgian chocolate for dinner in Brussels. From cursing that 15kg bag is too much crossing Jordan to complaining of having nothing to wear in London in a matter of days. When I met my other friends in Europe, I no longer have sense of days and date.
The day to day were so strikingly different that I could be sitting for hours looking at hundred flights trying to make it in time to the carnival in Salvador de Bahia or chasing after a sign that says “meteor crater” in Steinheim. I would be drinking different local beers every night in different towns for a whole week or dancing at different salsa clubs every night the whole week. I could be lounging at posh Ibiza clubs with character or couchsurfing in a bedouin cave in the middle of Petra, floating in the dead sea in Israel or swimming in alligator infested river in Brazil. I could be going into savasana to the fiery sunset of Mancora or catching the glorious sunrise in the Sahara desert aboard a camel.
Never ever before in my life that I only have to care about what I want in every single thing that I do. For the first time in my life, I don’t have to worry about classes to miss, work to answer for, or what to tell my mother. I can take off in a moment’s notice without the care in the world. I can take my time to leap off a bridge bungee jumping or decide at a flip of a switch to spend 5 months budget on a week diving spree to the amazing Galapagos. I have gotten off a bus because my seat mate told me there’s an amazing church in this tiny town of Loja, Colombia. I jumped. I dived. I climbed. I biked. I hiked. I danced. I got drunk. I got high. I ate guinea pig (eww!) And yet sometimes, the most productive thing I did the whole week is to send home a postcard. And it’s fine because it’s my trip.
The freedom is exhilarating. I am made for this. Sometimes I get breathless. Not because of the thin air at 5,000 meters above sea level, but with the realization that I was living my grandest dream.
If you have followed my trip for a while, you’d know I’ve been obsessing about this concept. I’ve declared in my 2011 year end post that my trip hasn’t changed my life and hasn’t changed me. A woman I met traveling suggested that I wait until I come back and see.
On the surface level, for sure I have changed. Physically I got darker and skinnier, for which I’m happy. Because the usual configuration is “men lose weight traveling while women gain them.” I got more fit with better stamina from all the physical work out I subjected myself to while in South America. I learned to speak Spanish. I developed a liking to salsa (dancing). I’m also no longer clueless in the kitchen.
I am sure too that (at least) on a microscopic level, I am changed within. For how can one be exposed to so many different cultures & experiences and not be changed at all? I suppose that even in so admitting, I am already changed from 235 days ago. Maybe in the way I make decisions now or how I react to certain situations I am a little bit different.
As for “my life” changing? Steve Jobs said in his Stanford commencement speech that “dots can only be connected looking backwards; and not forward”. I get it. I remember using my sister Pincky as an example of life changing experience, where she went to Japan on an exchange program at age 18 and now lives in Tokyo (2011 year end post). Yes, obviously she didn’t move to Japan one month after she came back from the exchange program.
Future Plans (travels, blog, etc.)
Round the World 2? someone asked in wanderlass facebook page. I would go in a heartbeat. But geez, I haven’t even completely unpacked yet. My room is a total mess. But to be completely honest, I believe that the kind of travel I did last year is a once in a life time thing. Don’t get me wrong, there will be trips. I’m going to be packing my bags again and long term traveling is something I love doing. But I think I will not be planning for another round the world trip. But then again, if there is one thing I learned from this experience, it’s NEVER SAY NEVER.
This blog has been around way before my round the world trip so I will definitely continue to keep it running. I know I was delinquent in posting during my trip, so I plan to be back-blogging some of the amazing experiences I missed. Yeah right, whatever. Expect me to be milking this RTW for all its worth. If Che Guevara published The Motorcycle Diaries 26 years after his travel, there’s no reason for me to think I’m too good for backlogs. ;-)
RTW stats post will come in the next couple of days, as this is getting to be so long. It will also be easier for those who hate statistics to just ignore the post completely as it will contain useless (but cool!) info regarding my RTW. :-)