A few months ago, I began alluding to (and explicitly mentioning… subtlety is rarely my strong suit) the fact that Tony & I will be winding up our trip and heading home this summer. I didn’t go into detail about why this was happening, in part because I didn’t really think anyone other than the two of us would care.
But, as it turns out, you did care! Very much, in fact. Many of you expressed alarm/confusion/dismay/concern/shock/horror or some combination thereof at this news and politely demanded an explanation regarding this turn of events. Had there been a family emergency? (Thankfully, no.) Were we no longer having fun? (Quite the opposite, actually.) Had we run out of money/was our Design Business a huge failure? (We still have a respectable chunk of change in our travel fund and actually have managed to secure enough work since officially launching that we tend to break even most months!) Was I pregnant? (I firmly believe that the status of a woman’s womb is her own business and really no one else’s, save her partner’s (should she have one), but given that my response to this question was a horrified, “Gross!” we can safely conclude I am not with child.)
So why are we heading back to North America this summer? And why did I have to be so secretive about the whole thing?
I promised you I would eventually write about both of these things in some detail. Given that we now have a return date set and summer is almost here, it seems time to spill the beans.
Why We Are Going Home
I realize that it has been ages now since we left on this adventure and so I forgive you if you have forgotten that we actually have two (mostly) wonderful dogs. I’ve only talked about them once previously on the site, in which I admitted that were it not for the generosity of my parents, Tony & I would not be getting on a plane any time soon because our leaving to travel was contingent upon knowing our two pups would be well cared for in our absence. My parents agreed to look after them so that we could live our dreams, something for which Tony & I have been grateful every single day.
When we initially left, we purposefully kept our end date nebulous. My parents agreed that we could have a year. We really hoped they would come to love the dogs enough so that we could travel longer, but the only thing we knew for sure is that they had committed to 12 months, no take backs. As the deadline of a year of travel drew closer, my parents gave us another great gift: they told us they wouldn’t mind keeping the dogs for another year so we could keep going. It was unexpected and much celebrated news, like an inmate on death row who is given a reprieve just as he’s beginning to ponder “last meal” options.
Those of you who have the good sense to follow our Facebook page know that back in December we were able to have a mini-reunion with my parents when they visited Bangkok. During that time, my parents mentioned that they had booked an extended European vacation for autumn 2014. They had periodically been able to travel during our adventure due to the kindness of my Aunt Edie and Uncle Wes who live in northern Ontario and had given our dogs temporary lodging. My relatives had already been called to bat twice and, with worsening allergies, it was understood there could be no third time. So, my parents asked if we could plan to be home near the end of the summer to resume caring for the dogs while they toured Europe. This was not an unreasonable request, and we figured it could actually be a good opportunity for us: we still intended to visit Europe, but it isn’t exactly a budget-friendly destination, so some time living rent-free and having the chance to continue to build our business (and therefore add to our travel coffer) and catch up on our blog might actually be a boon. Plus, we’d get to see the dogs again!
Initially, the plan was that we’d spend a few months in Toronto while my parents crossed some places off their travel wishlist, and then Tony and I would make our way back across the Atlantic, checking out some places in Europe, maybe (finally!) popping over to India, and then heading back to Canada once or twice a year (while my folks traveled) to care for the dogs, slowly moving towards a full-fledged location-independent lifestyle. Maybe we’d do some HelpXing or some Housesitting. Maybe we’d try teaching in Taiwan or Japan. Maybe we’d become dive instructors and hang out on Bali for a couple of months. Our future was ripe with possibility.
None of this is happening anymore. I mean, we are heading back to Canada as agreed, we just aren’t going to be doing the joint canine custody thing. My parents are both retired and want to use the next few years to do some more extensive traveling for themselves. Having recently survived the coldest winter in Toronto in the past 20 years and not being able to escape it for warmer climes due to these furry ball and chains, they are understandably a bit antsy for a bit more freedom.
So, when Tony & I return, we’ll be resuming full guardianship of Emmy & Rory. Which means any traveling we do henceforth will be as a party of four (or should that be a party of fur?).
Why I Haven’t Written About This Until Now
Before I proceed, I want to be clear about two things:
1) I am truly grateful to my parents for their support and selflessness the past two years. They didn’t have to look after Emmy & Rory and give up two years of their own travels so that we could go in their place, but they did and I feel very lucky for this.
2) I really love and miss our dogs. A lot.
But I can’t lie: the news that we were going home and wouldn’t be able to leave again for the foreseeable future was devastating to me. I haven’t wanted to go home since the day we left, and I still don’t want to now that we have to.
The logical part of me always knew this day was coming, that it was only a matter of time before that leash tying us to home was eventually tugged, beckoning us back. It’s actually been one of the things I’ve struggled with the most on this trip—how to enjoy what we have right now all the while knowing it wasn’t really in my power to keep it, that one day this adventure would end and, in all likelihood, it wouldn’t be because I chose for it to. There have been times when the feeling that I am not entirely free to live my life exactly as I want to, that I am helpless, has been truly crippling.
I always hoped that this time traveling and living life boldly without regrets would mean that when the day came for us to head home and hang up our packs, I would do so with a newly discovered grace and dignity. Instead, when my parents told me that they wanted us to come home more permanently this summer, I broke down weeping and proceed to cry for two days and refused to get out of bed.
If I haven’t written about our impending return in great detail and my feelings about it, it’s mostly because it’s been too raw and I have essentially been trying to work through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief. According to this model, people in mourning are meant to transition through five stages:
I think that for most of our trip I have been firmly lodged in Stage 1, knowing deep down that we would have to go home, but secretly hoping/believing that somehow we’d find a way around it or be ok with it when we had no other choices. So, this change of plans pretty much catapulted me straight to Stage 2, a place where I was firmly lodged for about four months. At times, I would skip over to Stage 3 in which I tried to plot and scheme a way around our return, the futility of which tended to lead to Stage 4, where I would cry and feel hopeless and like I was drowning. Very rarely I would see glimmers of Stage 5, when I managed to tell myself that everything would be ok, that this could actually be good, that this is the start of a new adventure and new opportunities for us.
I actually started to write this post a couple months ago, but at that point, I was still so consumed with anger and misery at the unwanted end of our trip that what I ended up with was brimming with an ugly hateful anger. I didn’t necessarily think it was invalid for me to share those kinds of feelings in this space, but I did recognize that one day—very soon, in fact—these posts will be the most tangible ties to the past two years that I have. And I really didn’t want an experience that has been so beautiful and wonderful to be tarnished by something so bleak and ugly. It’s true that this journey has not always been easy, that while traveling—just as in life—there are ups and downs and it is important to honor the lows as much as the highs. Still, I like to think that even the darkest stories we share here—whether they are about the sorrow of quitting a job, or struggling with depression, or even just a really bad haircut—always have a little bit of lightness and hope to balance them out. For a long time, I just couldn’t find those things when I thought about the end of our trip, and so I simply spewed vitriol and fury, hoping eventually my rage would burn itself out. It was important for me to get it out, but not necessarily on display in a public forum. I’m glad I’ve reached a place now where I feel like I can express these feelings in a healthy and constructive way.
They say that time heals all wounds and I have generally found that to be true. For months I despaired that I would never be ok about going home. I wouldn’t go so far to say that I woke up one morning and suddenly my broken heart was mended, but eventually I reached a point where I recognized that whether I met the moment gladly or not, we would be going home. With that in mind, I could either wallow and mope and rage about things I could not change, or I could accept that yes, this trip will end, sooner than I’d like, but the proverbial fat lady hasn’t sung just yet and we still have time right now. Did I really want my last memories of our beautiful trip to be filled with anger and despair? The truth is, even when it felt like so many of my choices were gone, I still had the choice of how I was going to face the end of our trip: with my head held high, or with shoulders hunched and the Charlie Brown Christmas music playing in the background.
So, What Happens Next?
In the end, I have chosen to embrace the remaining days of freedom that are left to us. Taking a bit of wisdom out of the Oasis songbook, I decided that I didn’t want to look back (or forward) in anger. I can’t say that I’m anxious or eager to return to Toronto at the end of June, but I have made my peace with the fact that this is what will happen. I can’t stop that from happening, but we can still go out on a high note.
If there is a silver lining to the accelerated end of our journey, it is that it has reminded us that there is a whole lot of world that we still yearn to see and that we need to make every day count. This is why, since getting the news of our impending return, we have made a renewed commitment to exploring as many places as we can. We left Ho Chi Minh City, spent three weeks in Laos and then, following two great weeks in Thailand, we flew to Sri Lanka where we have been racing about at breakneck speeds. It is an exceedingly—sometimes impossibly—gorgeous country and a great reminder that even after nearly 2 years of exploring this part of the world, there are still places that astound and humble us with their exotic beauty, incredible food, and the new surprises and mysteries they offer. We have run ourselves ragged, covering nine different cities in just 24 days, all reached in the peppy little red tuk tuk (named “King Tuk”) that we have driven all over the island. Nine cities seems like a lot—it is a lot!—but the reality is that we have only scratched the surface of what this place has to offer. If we had months to linger and uncover more of its secrets, that would still just be a start, but unfortunately time is not on our side and instead we will have to add Sri Lanka to ever-increasing list of places we’d like to revisit some day.
Why the rush? Incredibly, we head home in just over five weeks. But before we do, we’re FINALLY heading to Europe. On Monday, we’ll travel for 13 hours and end our day in London, England where we’ll be reuniting with friends that we met during our travels in Thailand last summer. From there, we’ll do a whirlwind tour of western Europe that will take us through France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. On June 27, we’ll board our last flight for the foreseeable future in Lisbon and make our way back to Toronto.
That’s what’s happening in the immediate future. As for what comes next, it’s really too soon to say. One of the things I’ve had to embrace with our return home is that I honestly don’t know what life after this trip will hold for us. In part, we’ve just been so focused on enjoying what we have right now and planning for Europe that we just haven’t had a chance to look much further than that. But also, if we’ve learned anything on this trip, it seems to be that the best way we can guarantee that something WON’T happen is to go ahead and plan as though it will. We’ve both committed to figuring out what the next step for us will be once we’re back in Toronto, not beforehand.
For now, what we know for certain is that we really would like to continue trying to build upon the life that we’ve set in motion out here on the road. Traveling has taught us that neither of us wishes to return to the conventional 9-to-5, to buy a house, or to start a family… the dogs will be enough of an expansion! So we’ll spend some time living with my parents and looking after their house while they travel this fall, hopefully continuing to build our web & graphic design business as well as exploring other means of diversifying our income streams. The goal is to replenish our travel fund (Europe won’t be cheap!) and set ourselves up for true location independence. As for what we’ll do with that freedom? Well, it’s too early to say, but if you know us at all, you’ll know that we’ve already started dreaming and scheming for our next adventure.
The one thing that won’t be ending, no matter all the changes on the horizon, is this site. We have so many stories and experiences that need to be shared; at last count, in addition to finishing up our adventures in Malaysia, we have FIVE other countries to write about (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal), not to mention our most recent adventures here in Sri Lanka! And of course, there will be all of the mischief and mayhem we encounter in Europe, and then whatever we happen to get up to once we’re back in North America. We’ve only just started the process of returning “home”, and I have always thought it’s an important and interesting part of the journey to share. In the past two years of constant change, one of the few permanents in our life has been this site. Though the adventures might change (or at least take place on a different stage), we are fully committed to continuing to document them with you here. Wherever life may take us, 20YH is here to stay.
With that said, things might be a little bit quiet around here for our last month on the road. As much as we have loved sharing our stories and look forward to continuing to do so, this site has required an immense amount of time and work. Considering the time required to break each story, write it, select and edit and upload the photos, and then format the post, with the crazy schedule we’ll be keeping in Europe, it’s not clear how we’d reasonably manage it all. I’ve said before that traveling and travel writing aren’t necessarily super compatible (at least not for me), and if something has to give, it will be the writing… for now. With this being our last month of travel for who knows how long, we want to luxuriate in it and feel we gave ourselves over completely to the adventure. Since leaving Vietnam, I think we’ve done a good job of fitting blogging and working around our travel schedule, but we’re giving ourselves these last weeks as a gift, one last chance to put travel first.
Once I accepted we were really going home, my biggest hope was that we’d be able to remain on the road long enough to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary abroad. Alas, we’ll be heading home about one week short of that goal. Celebrating in my parents’ basement makes my soul wither just a little bit, so instead, I’m going to selfishly declare our next five weeks of travel, our last five weeks of travel, our premature and prolonged celebration instead: one week on the road (and one country) for each year of marriage. I like this far better than the traditional gift, which is, apparently, meant to be wood.
I won’t say for sure that nothing will pop up here between now and our return to Toronto (remember what I said earlier about the fickleness of plans?)—if the mood and time to blog strikes, we certainly won’t fight it. (Be sure to add us to your RSS feed and/or subscribe to receive our posts by email to make sure you don’t miss a single article!) We’ll likely be relying more heavily during this period on our Facebook and Instagram streams to give quick updates on our daily adventures; if you’re not already following us in either of those places, we’d strongly advise you do so if you’d like to keep up to speed with our journey. We promise you won’t be disappointed: it’s gonna be one heck of a ride!