When we launched 20 Years Hence, we called it a travel blog because that was what everyone else with a blog similar to our own was doing and the mantle fit well enough. What else would you call a site meant to document the adventure of a lifetime?
Very quickly, however, we realized that as incredible as our Big Trip was, the thing we most wanted to capture and share with others was larger than travel: it was about our journey, one that traveling the world was just a piece of (an integral piece, but a piece nonetheless). To that end, we’ve written not just about the places we visit and the experiences we have had while traveling, but have also made room to document the personal growth and struggles our travels have prompted as well. We try to write about things that are universal to people seeking to live their best lives, no matter where we happen to find ourselves, whether we’re traveling the world or taking a break back home.
Facing A Long-Term Traveler’s Greatest Fear
I’ve always felt, throughout our entire adventure, that it was important to be as open and honest on the blog as we could manage. Rather than sugar-coating the realities of our situation, whether it was the upswelling of grief I felt when I quit my job or sharing mistakes we have made in our travels (and some we continue to make…) or learning a hard lesson from a really bad haircut, I always believed it was important to honor the reality of what this trip has meant and been for us, and that meant sharing both the good and the bad. Truthfully, it’s probably the bad moments that have done the most to shape our characters and have taught us our biggest lessons. Sometimes we can’t know how strong we are until we are tested. (And sometimes we don’t even pass the tests that are given to us, but that too can be a valuable lesson!)
Even though we spent nearly two years on the other side of the world, we still had moments that stressed our relationship, we still got sick, we still felt sad at times, and we still worried about the future intermittently.
Traveling the world for 23 months gave me many things, but one thing it didn’t give me was a foolproof antidote against fear and uncertainty. I often felt scared before we left on our travels, and I hope no one is surprised to hear that I still felt scared occasionally during them as well. I have tried to be honest about the sources of my fear in the hopes that bringing them into the light will diminish (if not banish) them, but I have learned that truly the only way to deal with fear is to identify the things that scare you the most and then meet them head on; that is what is to be brave.
Throughout our travels, I got pretty good at identifying things that scared me and addressing them as best I could. But there was one fear that was so big that, although I could name it, I never wanted to face it although I knew one day I would have to:
For the past two years, the single thing that has scared me the most was the thought of wrapping up our travels and returning home.
I couldn’t bear to face the reality that our travels were winding down, and when praying/wishing/begging/scheming didn’t seem to work, I tucked my tail and turned to the cowards’ best friends: denial and diversion.
If you follow us on Facebook and Instagram, you know that the last five weeks of our travels saw us jump from Asia for a whirlwind jaunt through Europe. We traveled hard and fast, in part because we wanted to make the most of our dwindling travel time, but we also did it because we couldn’t bear to let reality catch up to us. We met a lot of incredible people as we raced through five different countries (happily, some of them now old friends!) and invariably, in addition to remarking on how long we had been traveling, people would ask if we were nervous about returning home, if we were counting down the days.
“Oh no!” we protested. “We are running ourselves ragged and exploring each city for 10 – 12 hours each day so that we don’t have time to stop and tally up the days until we head home.”
Our plan kind of worked: We were thoroughly exhausted—emotionally & physically—by the end of our time in Europe. But the fact still remains that no matter how much we pushed ourselves, no matter how much we resolutely denied that the end was nigh, there is only so much we can do to slow (never mind stop) the passage of time. We could run but, ultimately, we could not hide. Eventually the time remaining on our incredible adventure shifted from weeks, to days, to hours.
I don’t think I can find the words to adequately express the wide-eyed terror and misery I felt whenever I thought about coming home. For all the rough spots on our travels, the last two years have been the most incredible ones of my life (so far!). Despite all we gave up to make them happen, I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. I most definitely did not want them to end.
And then the buzzer sounded. We were out of time, we were on a plane, and then—after nearly 2 years away—we were home. Despite 21 countries visited on our journey, it still boggles my mind that you can get on a plane and a couple of hours later, walk out into a completely different reality, a completely new life.
The End’s Not Near, It’s Here
We’ve been back in Canada for just over a week now. In the days leading up to our return, both of us tried our best to brace for the reverse culture shock and sense of deflation we had been assured we would feel. We expected the transition to “travelers not traveling” to be rough. We anticipated feeling alien and disconnected, strangers in a strange land. I worried that I would feel trapped.
As is so often the case with these kind of things, the reality is so rarely as monstrous as we build it up to be in our minds, distorted by fear. Although there have been a few stumbles as we’ve tried to find our footing on the unfamiliar soil of home, I have to say, being here has been fine. Life has even been, dare I say it, good. Vastly different, but good nonetheless.
This is true even though we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface and take advantage of all there is to do in Toronto. Since our return, we’ve purposefully laid low, seeing family, but otherwise, we haven’t really strayed from the comforts of my parents’ home in Scarborough. We haven’t set foot in a shopping mall, or hopped on a bus or street car, or wandered the downtown core, gone to see Shakespeare in the Park, or even seen any of our friends yet. Instead, we’ve slept and set up a makeshift office at my parents’ dining room table. We’ve slowly stumbled our way into something resembling a routine, one where the day begins with a shower: not to sluice the sweat of Asia from our skin but rather the sleep from our eyes. Then we have breakfast. No more fragrant bowls of soup or even flaky pains au chocolats but bowls of crunchy granola instead. When we really miss Asia, we top it with some fresh mango.
Then it’s my favorite part of the day: puppy time. We take the dogs for walks through the park and past the school where I spent my girlhood, a place filled with years of memories in my mind. Now, compared to the cacophony of Asia, even as children frolic about us and tennis players huff as they pummel their next serve across the courts, both of us remark on how quiet the sounds of play, the sounds of life, here are. We walk through a nearby hydro field that has been transformed in our two-year absence into a beautiful meadow blanketed in wildflowers. Of all the things I did not look forward to about our return, this time back with our dogs was the one thing I clung to, the beacon that brought me safely into shore, and I’m happy to report that being with them has been every bit as good as we dreamed.
At night we sit down to home-cooked meals, something I admit we never missed while in Asia but came to crave once we hit Europe. Being the ethnic hodgepodge that Toronto is, our first meal off the plane—our first taste of home—was a plate full of West Indian curries at my Nanny’s house, and we’ve since enjoyed banana-leaf-wrapped feasts from our Sri Lankan neighbors, and Filipino, Greek and Polish desserts from our other neighbors. For my dad’s birthday, we went out and tried a local Vietnamese restaurant. Then there’s the taste of Canadian summer: meats grilled on the barbecue, fresh salads, and plenty of corn on the cob.
The Present of Being Present
Sometimes you travel far and wide, circling the globe, in search for something you only find once you’ve returned back to the place you started. During a moment of clarity in our travels, when I was reconciling myself to coming home, I said that even though I didn’t know exactly what awaited us here, that there had to be some opportunity, some gift, that would only make itself available to us when we arrived. I hope there are many to come, but I think that I have already identified one of them.
When we left on our trip, I hoped that being untethered from the daily stresses and frustrations of ordinary life would allow me to shift my focus to the here and now, that I would learn to revel in the moment and find the peace that only comes from lodging your feet firmly in the present and letting time slip between your toes. My dedication to this pursuit waxed and waned like the moon, and although I think I stretched and changed a lot during our time away, I never achieved my goal completely. I would not say that I never achieved blissful moments where time slipped away and I got lost in a moment, but my curse as a traveler was that more often than not I was skipping ahead, trying to anticipate and plan for what might come around the corner. It was so easy to get caught up in the minutia of wondering which city (or country!) we’d hit next, where we’d sleep, where we’d eat, how we’d get there, what we would see and do that it was even easier to forget that we were already somewhere and that we should maybe invest our time in enjoying it.
When we came home, we needed a soft place to land, and thankfully my parents have offered us that. For the first time in nearly two years, we don’t have to worry about where our next meal will come from, what to order or what to cook, where we’ll lay our heads, where we’ll wake up tomorrow, what we’ll do; someone else is taking care of all that stuff, ourselves included. For two years we have thrilled on the high of uncertainty, of never knowing precisely what the next day will bring. And now we are home and we find ourselves oddly comforted in the knowledge that there is a predictability to our days, and tomorrow will look an awful lot like today.
The days here have the kind of rhythm that, were it to last forever, would eventually lobotomize travelers like Tony & me. I know it can’t last forever; in fact, I’m banking on the fact that it won’t. We have a lot of goals and plans for both this time while we’re home and what we’d like to do afterwards. We know that we are meant to wander and that this place we call home is termed so more out of convenience than accuracy. For us, home is the road. This is just a prolonged pit stop: one day I will wake up and my feet will itch and I will know it will be time to start planning in earnest for a new tomorrow. For now, however, right now is all that matters. And right now we’re happy dwelling in the moments that take us from minute to minute and allow us to simply be here now.
“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me,
And I’m feeling good.” – Nina Simone, “Feeling Good”