It’s hard to believe I have been traveling the world for a year. 13 months now, if you add in the month I spent in the United States before stepping on to that plane to Brazil. April 14, 2015 is a date that will be forever in my memory. It will be an anniversary I celebrate in silence every single year from now until I die. April 14 has become, to me, the day I proved myself fearless. Traveling around the world was something I dreamed of for a long time, never quite sure if that dream would come to fruition. Sure, there are dates where it became ‘real’ long before getting on that plane. The day I booked my special around-the-world ticket with Star Alliance. The day I quit my job. The day I first packed that measly 45litre backpack that would soon be attached to me at all times. All of those were moments that made my stomach drop, as if I were flying down a roller coaster, when in actuality I was simply sitting down allowing a moment to take me over. But stepping on to that plane? That was the real ‘holy shit, here I go’ moment.
I knew some of what would come: new friendships, beautiful sites, incredible experiences. And come they did. But the year also brought things I had never anticipated. It brought moments of awe with the realization of a greater purpose of the world. It gave me a love of nature greater than I ever could have anticipated having. It gave me an acceptance of myself that despite what some think, I will never be a city girl; I love the peace and quiet of the country far more. It brought me an understanding that you won’t love everything in this world, and that’s okay. It brought me closer to terrorism, waking up to the Islamic State’s bombing of an embassy. It brought my understanding of what real poverty is, with my heart breaking as I stepped over other human beings in Delhi as if they were garbage strewn about, as stepping over them it was the only way to get around the sheer magnitude of them. It brought police raids in China, forcing me out of my accommodations on a moments notice. I’ve long known the real beauty of travel is the unexpected moments you can’t plan, yet even that does not begin to adequately describe what the past year has meant to me.
Since returning home, numerous people have commented on how I don’t talk about my experiences much. I have to be prompted and probed to really talk about what happened. I think this is because I’m still digesting it all; still trying to find an understanding of it all myself. Much has been written about the culture shock of experiencing the world and then returning to a life where not much has changed since you left. That experience is not overstated by any means; it’s a very real emotional roller coaster that I am battling daily. Thankfully, the experiences I yearned for while gone will hold me here: the campfires, the laughs with friends, the Canadian summer nights that are equally as beautiful as much of what I saw. Since the day I started driving on my 16th birthday, whenever I need to think or to regroup, I would jump in my car at night and just drive aimlessly down roads I’ve never been down before. I find myself doing that more often that not lately, as I work my way through what it means for this past year to be over.
Trying to figure out what comes next is exciting yes, but scary nonetheless. People like to tell me things like “I’m sure you’ll be going somewhere soon enough” and while true, it just shows this is something that only people who’ve taken this kind of journey can understand. While I will travel again, they don’t understand that I actually do want to settle down now. And while I will travel again, it will likely never be anything to the same magnitude. So regardless of ‘what’s next’, there’s a sense of finality at the ending of what was a life long dream that I need to deal with. Perhaps I should talk about it more, maybe that would help. But I struggle in conveying the real feelings. While I can tell people about the Great Wall of China and how we did the ‘real’ part of the wall in its dilapidated state, not restored as the tourist area is, and how beautiful it was, I can’t describe how once I got to the top of a peak, turned around to fully take in the view, I was suddenly overcome with emotion and awe of where I was in that moment. I can tell you about how the Taj Mahal is even grander than it’s made out to be, but I can’t tell you how when you see it up close, it sucks the air out of you because you’re so speechless at how insignificant you feel standing below it. And in a way, I like that I can’t describe these feelings. It means they were mine, they were real, and they were special. So that’s what I’ll hold on to, near and dear, as I sort through the rest.[ssba]