Re-Entry, Relationships and Unexpected Things - 2014

Sunset over the Gobi Desert, Mongolia
“When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, un-lying life will rush in.” – D. H. Lawrence

When I set out for my RTW in August 2013, the loose plan was to spend about a year on the road. It was part exploration, part love of travel, part experiment. I wanted to be smart about it, so I made sure I didn’t come back completely penniless.  I could never have predicted how the last year and a bit would go, but when I left I was filled to the brim with love and support from my family and friends, the greatest gift I could have asked for. I intended to find out if I could ever blog full time and be on the road full time. I wanted to create. I wanted to open everything in my life, remove my boundaries and see what rushed in.
It is an understatement to say that I learned a lot. I think the full magnitude of all I learned and the processing will still trickle in for years. When you travel long term, you learn every day even if you don’t want to.  The constancy of movement and the unfamiliar push even the most comfortable person. You want to have a fun filled, think about nothing day? Nope, try again. Your bus is delayed, you’re stuck in a country you don’t want to be, you can’t find anyone who speaks English, your stomach is acting up, you fall asleep sitting up, someone is yelling at you, you miss your flight, someone chases you down the street, you get horribly lost, you come across animals you hoped you would never see in the wild, you name it, anything can happen. It puts you on the defensive while stripping you down. You constantly have to be “on,” especially as a woman (I hesitate to say).  And the reality is that it can be exhausting, you never truly relax.  I won’t for a second say that I wasn’t incredibly blessed to be on the journey, but the truth is sometimes you just need to sink into a familiar place and dissolve.

I learned that as much as I love to travel, a life of extended long term travel just isn’t for me. Long, long term it’s just not what I want. Even staying in a place for three months or six months at a time and then moving on doesn’t work for me.  I like to be on the move, but I also function best when I have flexibility and a container. Sure your backpack is a container but it’s also a lot like a monkey on your back. I hope to be able to continue to travel the rest of my life, it’s just going to look a little different than the RTW trip did. This trip was a specific moment in time. When you take away the rules and regulations of a routine life you get to see what you are really made of and how you really work. This is an incredible gift. You can’t avoid yourself, you stare your flaws and fears in the face and you learn how to be with yourself, ALL.THE.TIME.

A lot of people go on and on with their RTW so that it either becomes their regular life by design or by accident. Some people refuse to set foot near their “home,” for a very long time, thinking it dilutes the experience. I am not one of those people. I gladly came home twice for the weddings of close friends, something which I wouldn’t trade for anything (I love my tribe). Each time I came home, I learned.  Sometimes staring the familiar in the face is the only way you can see how much you’ve changed. I am fond of saying, “I’m always with myself, I can’t always see how much I’ve changed.” This was never more true than the two times I came home during my RTW. I was able to observe how differently I handled things, remember how much I love where I’m from and most of all to embrace all those I love and appreciate their touch as if it was the first hug. There are little things too, like not wanting to buy anything, feeling overwhelmed in a grocery store, and feeling that some “normal” US things are even more extravagant than I remembered.

These two weddings were 8 months apart. Each found me in a different state and at a very different place in the journey. Wedding one, which I was a bridesmaid in, was just two months into my RTW, wedding two was 10 months in. A lot happened in 8 months, more than ten countries to be exact.  Wedding two was very emotional for me, I was a surprise guest and I had told almost no one that I was coming into the country. I was overwhelmed with the love I found at home. I found it within myself as an openness I hadn’t yet experienced and I found it in the loved ones I saw. I was inspired by this wedding and the evolution my friend had gone through since she first started dating her now husband.

I was supposed to be home for three weeks to go to the wedding, take a break and sort out my China visa. It felt great to be home, I was flying high, taking hikes, enjoying every part of nature and seeing people I love. I could not have been happier. I was open, I was in love with life and I wanted to swim in that feeling, so I did. It felt great to fall asleep on the couch and not worry about where my backpack or passport was. Everything about it felt good and juicy…and then it got better.

When I came back I was still smitten and longing for someone I had met on my trip. I’m not someone who dates. In fact, I never do it. It’s just not something I ever focus on. Not for any particular reason, it just tends to be in the way back of my brain instead of somewhere closer to the front as it is for a lot of other people. So the fact that I got interested in someone on my trip was a pretty big deal for me. It showed me that I was becoming more and more open and allowing things to unfold naturally instead of controlling what I could. That if nothing else would have been a huge victory for my personal development. It could have been the only thing I learned on the trip and it still would have been great.

Enter D (not his name). I had known D for years, I had dated a friend of his in high school and would occasionally run into him randomly. In fact, I ran into him a few days before I left in August 2013 after not seeing him for years. D and I would always have a good laugh when I ran into him but I didn’t really know him that well.  We knew a lot of mutual people so I sort of knew what he was up to in a general sense, but didn’t know much beyond that. That day I ran into him, I was with my best friend and as we got into the car I found myself flustered, heart racing. It was unexpected to say the least. I told my best friend, and finally admitted that I had always found him attractive and then off I went on my adventure.

Many months later, my best friend ran into D at an event and I came up in conversation, he said some really nice things about me that piqued my interest and were nice to hear, but I didn’t think much of it, I was interested in someone else, and I was, well, half way across the world. A few weeks after my friend’s wedding I saw something that reminded me of D and sent him a message. It started a conversation that lead to drinks, that led to a couple of dates, that led to seeing each other two, three, four and then sometimes five times a week. I was caught off guard even though I had always been curious about D. The guy from travel disappeared from my interest after my first date with D, poof, just like that. Through a strange turn of events I ended up staying longer than my three weeks at home. I picked up some work for a couple of weeks at my old job and before I knew it I had been home for 2 months and dating D for about 6 weeks.

Hiking views

I considered staying. I was a little burnt out from being on the road, home felt good, a few things aligned to challenge me to stay, I was dating someone I really liked for the first time in ages and I had done a LOT since I first left. I could have easily stayed…but I left, knowing that there were a few more places that were calling me before the end of the RTW, China and Mongolia to be exact.  Even though home was tempting and there were beautiful things unfolding and I was torn, I had to listen to the call.

Now, what about D? He was phenomenally supportive, almost unbelievably so.  I drank it in. Sure he wanted me to stay for selfish reasons, he said, but he would support me and never hold me back from continuing my dream and what I needed to do. We finished out my last few weeks in the US with great dates, walks and talks. I knew I was in a bit of trouble, I could feel myself falling for him and throwing off all my guard even though I knew I was leaving.  There was something beautiful between us, supportive, honest, real, comfortable and fun. We talked about what would happen when I left, we put it all on the table, I tried to be honest with him, and tell him that the realities of travel are difficult and that even though you say you want to keep in touch a lot, the reality is that with everyday life, people just don’t always do it. In fact, most people don’t and it's not something I expect anymore. I had almost a years worth of experience at this point of trying to keep my relationships with my friends and family alive while on the road. It was hard, and I’d had some of those relationships for 20 years. While I appreciated his enthusiasm and assurances that he wanted to keep going while I was away, internally I was trying to be realistic and I held only a little bit of hope. I thought we would Skype a for about a week when I got to China and then it would just be a nice memory.

I was wrong. The night before I left, D gave me a gift. The gift could not have been more me, or more thoughtful. It is still one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received. I carried it with me during the following two months of travel, wherever I went. I thought it would be a great reminder of the beauty we shared between us, even when we did stop talking, which again I expected around week 2 of China. Again, I was wrong and pleasantly surprised when D proactively couldn’t wait to make Skype dates with me, or talk to me for hours or as much time as I had. And something else happened to me that I never expected or had experienced before, I missed him, intensely. I missed the little things, holding his hand, taking a walk with him, talking face to face, his laugh, his deep, all encompassing, full heart hugs. Sometime around week three of China, on an overnight train, in a triple bunk bed, in a car with 65 other people, I realized how much more my heart had opened since we had started dating. It was a part of my heart that no amount of travel could open, it was a part of my heart that I now realized had been closed for some time. This beautiful, supportive, encouraging man had led me gently through the garden of affection to the gate of love without me fully realizing where we were headed.

Now I know what you’re thinking, how can you fully experience where you are when you are always skyping and texting with someone half way across the world. Well the truth is you can, and my truth is that it enhanced my experience. I had to articulate my days in a way I never had to before and it helped me process the experience more deeply while I was sharing it. It was a whole new thing for me. I was so used to experiencing my day and only sharing the best stories every once and a while with people, or sometimes not even processing some of it because I was alone so much and so much happened every single day it was hard to keep up. This allowed me to delve into those experiences in a different, often times more full way. It was all new to me and it was brilliant.

Sunset, Byron Bay, Australia

China turned into Mongolia and then turned into Australia. I went into the Mongolian countryside knowing it was time to go home. I had “the moment.” The moment where you just know you are done. I had it in a temple in Ulaanbaatar, it was distinct in a way I never thought it would be. I was just done. I knew I could have gotten on a plane that day and have been perfectly happy and content with the decision. I still went to the Mongolian countryside and I am so glad I did, it was amazing, but I came back to UB and booked a flight home from Australia. I knew it was time to move onto the next experiment, the next stage of my life. I had no idea what it was going to look like (I still don’t) but I knew it was time for me to stop living out of my backpack. It didn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to travel anymore, it just mean that the long term travel / full time blogging experiment had come to a close. I had given a dream a chance. I felt peace with it. I knew it was the right decision. Sure I had moments of doubt, thoughts of doubt always arise, but in my heart I knew it was right.

After visiting some friends in Australia, I was really ready to go home. Still unsure of what it would look like for me career and life wise, I tried as best I could to roll with it. Re-entry had not gone well in the past and I was a little bit worried about it. I had a tendency to get depressed and a bit short tempered, not my normal state of being at all. And I was unsure of how D and I would transition into the next phase. I was mostly worried about my re-entry issues affecting the relationship. Plus it was all new to me and I had no idea what two months in Asia does to a new relationship once you’re back on the ground and in the same air space. I was nervous but excited. After 22 hours of travel, he picked me up at the airport. It was a relief to see him. Besides me being awkward because I knew I smelled from 22 hours of travel, everything was surprisingly normal. Or as normal as it can be when you dated someone for six weeks before you left the country for two months and then came home.

It’s hard to imagine the intensity and complexity of coming home from a year of travel unless you’ve done it. There are a lot of misconceptions and assumptions, especially when a relationship is involved. People always make assumptions about travel, it’s just how people’s minds tend to process something they have no reference for. We do it for anything we don’t have a reference for. You always have an idea of what something will look like before it happens even if you try not to, even if you are mindful enough not to. It’s what the brain does. So even if you stay conscious, you can still be caught in a web of assumptions. And if you throw in lack of communication about these assumptions or expectations it can become a right bit of a storm. This, in not so many words, is what happened with D. We tried to get back on the same page when I got back, and we did for a while. But the constant transitions required in our short time together proved to be too much. We had never built a foundation on which to allow those transitions to occur. We let other things become more important than each other. In a certain way, we let life live us instead of the other way around. And for me, I could never understand the disparity of how I was treated pre and during trip vs. post trip. Maybe there was some resentment that I didn’t uncover, maybe it was work, maybe it was timing and schedules, maybe it was fear, maybe we just quit, and maybe it was everything and nothing. But I always come back to what I know best, my family and my friends are everything to me and you make time for the things in your life that are important to you. We make choices and we create our own reality.

Heaven - Barna Woods, Ireland 

Re-entry has been tough to say the least. I’ve tried to be upbeat and mostly it’s real and true. I’ve tried to keep exploring now that I’m at home, something I always do to enrich my life. I’ve tried to live in gratitude, and be present with everyone I see that I love. But the truth is you don’t know your place when you come back, you don’t know if you belong at all. You quickly learn that most people don’t care how great an experience you had and they get sick of stories that start with “When I was in…” They’re just glad you’re back so they don’t have to worry about you anymore and can put you back in the box they had you in before you left.  And harder still is that some friendships don’t survive a RTW trip. Like a lot of changes in life, sometimes things and people fall away in transition. It’s hard to accept and it’s hard to let people go that you love. I think re-entry issues are one of the reasons some people stay away so long. Sometimes it’s easier to stay away.

Re-entry is still unfolding more than four months later and it will continue to as I sort through the emotional highs and lows of the RTW and what I am sad to say is now heartbreak with D. Re-entry has challenged me to my core, almost as much as my RTW did. Even though I have started working at something I am interested in, I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing. And the reality is that it’s ok, because nobody does. We all just try to pretend real hard to look like we know what we’re doing. It brings us comfort in a life where anything and everything can change in a moment, our lives turned upside down. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know that my life has been changed forever and I am grateful for every part of it, no matter what emotion I feel now. I am grateful to D for opening my heart up again, no matter how much pain I feel or how much I miss him. I am grateful love was part of my RTW experience, no matter how short lived.  I am grateful for the immense kindness of strangers during my RTW, many of whom are now friends for life. I am grateful for each smile I saw, each friendly wave I received, and each warm hug. I am grateful for each and every country I visited, and the moment in time I visited them. I am grateful I had this opportunity. I am grateful for the experimentation of the RTW, the openness that I found and the vigor with which I threw off my boundaries and dove in. I am grateful for every moment I spent on the road. I am grateful for each and every experience, positive and negative. I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned and for the ones I’ve yet to realize.

I let life rush in and I have no regrets. 

Cliff sitting, Nash Point, Wales