It’s been a week of milestones here at 20 Years Hence: Thursday marked six weeks back home following our Big Trip (How did that happen???), and today is the two year anniversary of the date we first left on our travels (How did that happen?!?).
Given that we’re celebrating the latter concurrent with the former, I anticipated that I’d be looking back on that fateful day when we boarded a plane to Tokyo, Japan with a pang of wistfulness and a splash of mourning. After all, we’re long-term travelers who are, at present, not really traveling. By the looks of it, our Big Trip is over and now we’re home. Do we really want to break out the party hats for that?
Hell yeah, we do! Sure we didn’t technically travel the world for a full two years, but coming in at 687 days on the road (aka 98 weeks and 1 day; aka 22.5 months) and stopping in at 21 different countries (some multiple times!), is pretty darn great (and at a full 4.5 months longer than our pipedream longest-trip estimate, nothing to scoff at either). And the truth is, whether we were in foreign lands for 22 months or 24 months is not really the point; what really matters to us is that the last 24 months have been the best of our lives, filled with adventures and discoveries, incredible challenges and triumphs, and So! Much! Happiness! (And also So! Much! Good! Food! Maybe they are one and the same?) Even better? Although we’re now home, we don’t anticipate any of that changing.
The Gift of the Last Two Years
I’ve already written about how our transition from travelers to stationary homebodies struck fear into my heart in principle but was far less stressful and traumatic in practice (at least so far) . Two years on the road (I’m going to round up; get over it!) was many fantastic things, but it was also really exhausting. Maybe our first week back wasn’t so bad because we spent most of it sleeping and joking to one another that, more than anything else, we’ve spent the past two years in a state of constant sleep deprivation. But I also think our adjustment has been relatively placid because of an important lesson we learned during our travels: whether we’re traipsing about in unfamiliar lands or hibernating here at home, we’re always moving forward, the journey never stops.
Being back home has been really pretty good, certainly way better than I originally feared. But that’s not to say that we haven’t been dealing with the occasional moments of reverse culture shock or that adjusting to living at home with my parents has been hunky dory 100% of the time. It can be hard to be home when, in our hearts, we’d really rather not, when we don’t identify with the hopes and dreams that so many people around us have and our globetrotting—and the shift in priorities it incited within us—is viewed with skepticism or confusion. Still, being home has been more good than bad, but I do still get stressed out and I have averaged about one crying jag per week since we’ve been back. Despite this, I still feel different—healthier—than I did before we left. I own my emotions and responses in a way that I couldn’t before, and I realize that so much of the anger, pain and sadness I carried with me has been left behind during our travels, freeing me up to fill my life with light and laughter. One of my oldest friends, Sarah, remarked to me recently that my emails to her during the trip were filled with a joy and optimism that had begun to fade and flicker out while I was living in Nashville and it was so nice to see old, happy Steph again.
And therein lies the crux of it all, why—no matter the snags—I feel so great wrapping up our second year of travel at home: Because the most important traveling I did over the last two years wasn’t around the world, but down the path towards the person I once was but thought I had lost. My truest self, my best Steph.
Which reminds me of one of my favorite poems, “Love After Love” by Derek Walcott:
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Two years later, I think I’ve arrived at my own door, I’m feasting on my life, and it feels great. Poring through the suitcases of clothes and boxes of belongings we stored before our trip, I do in some ways feel like these are the vestiges of a shadow self, the shed skin of a stranger I no longer understand. But you know what? I sorted through those boxes and found that some of those clothes are ones I’m glad I kept because they look better than they did before we left and are a welcome change from the floaty, shapeless cheap clothes I had to settle for in Asia. At first it was a shock to the system because I wasn’t used to seeing myself in “real clothes” any more, but I find that six weeks in, I’m shedding my backpacker skin (at least superficially) and am embracing the new one I am growing.
Even though I feel more like me than I perhaps ever have, and even though Toronto feels effortless and comforting in the way that home always does, I don’t know that I feel like I exactly fit in here. I am very aware nearly all of the time that my priorities are really out of whack with nearly everybody else as evidenced by the fact that almost everyone I know now owns a house, whereas I… continue to check for flights to “anywhere but here” pretty much every night. Let me be clear: I am immensely happy to be surrounded by family and friends and our dogs again, but a large part of my heart is still out there on the road.
Year 3: Stronger Than Ever
Tony & I have had this crazy travel dream for so long that sometimes it’s hard for me to remember how we ever got it into our heads in the first place. Certainly one of our sources of inspiration was my friend L’Ell, the friend with whom I traveled through Europe for six weeks nearly a decade ago and who then went and traveled around the world for eight months solo. I remember catching up with her between one of her epic jaunts to South America, well before Tony & I had started planning our own trip, and she told me that her mother had asked her if—finally—her wanderlust had been sated and she could settle down. And she just shook her head and said, “I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. If anything it’s stronger than ever.”
I finally understand what L’Ell meant. People express a mixture of admiration and incredulity when they find out we have traveled for two years. But they’re even more shocked when they find out that we don’t want to stop and, in fact, are actively working and planning to keep going for a third year and beyond.
As we stand here back in Toronto, two years after tipping our lives upside down and setting ourselves free, I feel just as happy—if not more—as I did at this time last year when we were exploring the rice terraces of Bali. Because not only do I know that our travel dreams are still alive and well, but because I know that even if we never moved again in our lives, we did what we set out to do: For two years, we saw the world, we dreamed big, and we lived a life without regrets. It’s for this reason that I was ultimately able to make my peace with coming home, why I can be here now; I realized that as much as I wanted to keep going exactly as we were, I also knew that we had taken exactly the trip we wanted to, on our own terms, and I wouldn’t change a single minute of it. If it had to end, then we would do it still in love with the world and our lives. That’s how I know our trip was a success.
But I am also overjoyed (and excited!) by the knowledge that the trip DOESN’T have to end, that there will be more travel, to places we never even considered when we set out two years ago. Our dreams have morphed and grown along with us; as much as we’d love to return to Asia and do it all over again (and some day, I know we will), we have two new parameters—our dogs!—to work around.
If our trip taught me anything, it’s that plans were made to be broken and that often the best experiences are the ones you can’t plan for. But it also taught me that things have a way of working out and that if you can’t change an obstacle, you need to change the way you approach it. We love our dogs and have to look after them, but we still want to travel… so we’re compromising: Year 3 will see us continue to travel but, this time, we’re bringing the dogs with us! (As if regular travel wasn’t enough of a challenge, right?)
Looking back, I think of the last two years where we traveled slowly from East to West as a beta test. We thought this trip would be our once in a lifetime shot to see the world, but now I think of what we’ve just wrapped up as Big Trip v1.0. That’s why I look at this time at home as a layover, albeit an extended one, and still view ourselves as moving into a third year of traveling, but one where we’ll be launching Big Trip v2.0. Right now, we’re working on shoring up our travel savings and growing our design business and exploring other lines of location-independent employment so that the next time we head out into the world, we can do so indefinitely. When it comes to wrapping up the second year of our travels, I think that’s ending on a high note.
We’ve got the dogs and, as those of you who follow our Facebook page already know, we now have a car. My geography’s gotten pretty good over the past two years, so I know we’ve also got two other cardinal directions to explore.
We’ve still got tons of planning and preparing to do before we floor the gas and peel out of here, and things are always subject to change around here, but suffice to say, we’ve got our sights set on the mother of all road trips! If we have any regrets regarding our trip, it’s that we didn’t launch 20YH until a few months before our trip; this time, we’ll be able to share every stage of the planning process, so trust us: If you thought the last two years were epic, we’re only warming up. Two people, two dogs, a Hyundai Accent, thousands of miles of road and plenty of unexplored countries before us… who said the adventure was over?
As always, a hearty round of thanks and appreciation to all of our readers who have followed us around the world and back. Your support has been such a boon for us and it has been an incredible honor to have you share in our journey. Whether you’ve emailed, commented, followed us on our various social media platforms, requested design work, or merely lurked: THANK YOU. We’re so looking forward to the adventures our third year of travels will bring and can’t wait to share them here on the site.
P.S. Did you notice that many of these pictures were about places we haven’t written about yet? Don’t worry! We’ll be doing that over the next few months too!