One Year Later

One year ago, we followed our bliss and a one-way ticket to the other side of the planet. We landed in Tokyo, Japan with about 95% of our worldly possessions strapped to our back, and little else other than a bank account flush from years of hard saving and a head full of dreams that it was finally time to make real. Fast-forward 365 days and, well, not much has changed really! Our bank account is certainly a lot leaner, but every morning we wake up with hearts, if not heads, full of dreams and do our best to...

They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and I suppose that in some ways that must be true because, believe it or not, we’ve now been traveling for an entire year!

One year ago, we followed our bliss and a one-way ticket to the other side of the planet. We landed in Tokyo, Japan with about 95% of our worldly possessions strapped to our back, and little else other than a bank account flush from years of hard saving and a head full of dreams that it was finally time to make real. Fast-forward 365 days and, well, not much has changed really! Our bank account is certainly a lot leaner, but every morning we wake up with hearts, if not heads, full of dreams and do our best to make some of them come true. Though there have absolutely been bumps along the way, it’s a pretty fantastic way to live.

The Slow Road to Happiness

Outside one of our favorite spots to relax and recharge – during low season, anyway – Pai, Thailand

While part of me is a little bit disbelieving that we’re already one year into this trip, I can’t honestly say that it’s gone by in the blink of an eye—I feel all the miles we’ve covered, the experiences we’ve had and the lessons that come bundled up in all of that. In 12 months, we’ve spent time in 13 countries (most of which we’ve yet to document on the blog, which is perpetually behind, but I promise we will keep sharing these stories until one day they’re all told). This more than doubles the number of places I had visited before, but is also far less than the number we thought we would reach in this amount of time. However, our life has been very, very full.

While our old life seemed set at warp speed, I think that was partially because we felt like it was passing us by, the weeks bleeding into months and then into years with not much to show for all that time.

You see, this past year has been all about slowing down and taking the time to really get to know the places we visit as well as ourselves. While our old life seemed set at warp speed, I think that was partially because we felt like it was passing us by, the weeks bleeding into months and then into years with not much to show for all that time. Living your life on auto-pilot, it’s easy to become a zombie and walk through the world in a haze, your eyes blind to much of what is around you. But this year, we have been active participants in our life and in creating our own happiness, and I think that has made all the difference. Even when our days are empty, they still feel full, and I think that must be because over time, a deep-seated sense of contentment has rooted itself in me.

This past year, we have consciously made the choice to pursue happiness and revel in it whenever and wherever we find it. This is a big step for me because while I wasn’t purposely choosing to be unhappy before, I never really felt like simply doing something because it was what I wanted was a sufficient reason, that being truly happy was a valid life goal. It turns out that being happy is both incredibly easy and incredibly hard: you pretty much have to figure out what would bring you joy, then you have to believe you’re worth that happiness, and then you have to find the courage to go out and do it, whatever it may be. Depending on who you are, at least one part of that equation will likely be hard. But happiness is worth it. One year later and I’m living my best possible life RIGHT NOW, not squirreling it away for some day, and the knowledge of it nourishes and sates me in the most fundamental of ways.

Measuring Change & The New Normal

Looking back, I think that using myself as a yardstick is perhaps the best marker of progress in this journey, better than any stamps in a passport or incredible experiences checked off a bucket list. Patience has never been one of my virtues, but I don’t think you can spend a year traveling the world without exercising that muscle, however flabby and underdeveloped it might be. And in Asia, we have had to flex and tone our patience every single day. Now, I’ve still got a pretty short fuse, but one lesson I hope I’ve learned well enough in this past year to take with me wherever I should find myself is that very often, the best things take time and that as a person, one of the most generous things I can offer myself and others is patience and kindness.

In this past year, I’ve learned that we human beings are a resilient lot and what seems foreign and untenable initially can pretty quickly become the norm.

But it doesn’t happen overnight, and when I’m feeling out of my element, probably the thing I need most is simply time. Time to process, time to think, time to adapt and grow. I think it probably took us about 3 months to really relax into our new travel lifestyle and at least another 3 on top of that to really get comfortable with Asia. For a long time, although I found the countries we were visiting interesting and enjoyable, I didn’t truthfully think I could ever fully embrace Asia to the extent that I could live here. But one year later, I wonder how I’ll ever be able to live outside of it! These days, I viscerally balk at the idea of returning to North America and settling down, but I hope that when it is time to return home, I remember that I don’t need to slide back into our old life immediately and have it feel normal or right.

Our two motorbikes overlooking the countryside around Kampot, Cambodia

Because the truth is, things will be weird and uncomfortable when we head home. We’ve seen and done some truly incredible things out here, and we’ve also gotten quite addicted to the freedom with which we live our lives. We are responsible to no one but ourselves, which sounds selfish, but is perhaps the most important responsibility of all. If we squander this time, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

It’s common for many travelers upon returning to the place they began their journey to talk about how much they have changed yet how everything seems to be just as they left it. I don’t think we’ll have that problem, since we’ve been away long enough now that even all the way over here in Asia, I know things are changing back home without us. In our year away, some friends have gotten engaged, some have gotten married, some are expecting babies, some have already had them. Sure, we’ve done a lot and had our own adventures, but I know life back home isn’t simply on pause—heck, my little brother has moved across the country with his girlfriend (who I’ve never even met!). Maybe we’re just lucky to have exceptionally interesting friends and family, but the fact is, whether quickly or slowly, life is always moving forward, even out here on the road where it sometimes feels that by being busy and constantly moving ourselves, we can make time stand still. Things will be different when we go back and I need to remember that it’s ok to feel like I’m in the wrong place and I’ll never fit in again, because as it turns out, a year is a long time, but never is even longer still.

I know we’ve been gone a long time because now it’s Asia that feels like home. The thrill of $2 meals has faded (mostly because anything more than that seems ludicrously extravagant), the item of cutlery I’m the least proficient with these days is a fork, and I don’t even bother looking for the Western-style toilet in public restrooms anymore but instead squat like a pro. Conversely, I am horrified by photos of American portion sizes, all the “current music” I’m familiar with had its heyday in the summer of 2012 back in the Western hemisphere, and now 85ºF actually feels a bit cold to me. We were never supposed to be here for long as we have been, but our current life doesn’t have a lot of room for “supposed to” any more and while this is certainly not the trip we had planned to take, I think we’re all in agreement that it’s better this way.

High in the mountains of northern Vietnam

This past year has been many things for me, but one thing it certainly not been has been predictable. By opening ourselves up to one dream, we’ve found ourselves taken in directions we never imagined, and wound up in places we never intended—I’m writing this post after a day spent diving in Bali, Indonesia. A year ago, we’d never breathed underwater or experienced neutral buoyancy, and Indonesia was a country we had vehemently nixed from our original itinerary because we thought it would be too challenging. Now we’ve logged over 30 dives and are planning to spend two months exploring this island nation.

Looking Forward to Year 2

So, who’s to say where we’ll go from here or where we’ll be a year from now. Quite honestly, your guess is as good and as valid as mine. I suppose the best I can do is simply say what I hope will happen, because just look how far one dream has already taken us!

Here’s what I know: As much as we have loved our time in Asia, it’s starting to feel a bit too familiar, a bit too comfortable. Our wanderlust is fueling us to break out of our comfort zone once more and tackle some new challenges. I won’t lie, the thought of heading to Europe terrifies me, which is probably a sign it’s time to move on and leave this corner of the world, at least for a little while.

Learning to dive in the Philippines

We’re not ready to make a clean break, however, so in the coming months, we’ll shake things up by heading from East Asia to South Asia, flying first to Nepal in late September where we will hopefully do some trekking (can you believe it?!?), then on to India where—amongst other things—I’ll be taking part in an extended meditation retreat, and then depending on how India treats us (and consequently, how long we stay) we’ll go to Sri Lanka. After that, it’s up in the air, as our next destination will likely be governed by where we can get to for the least amount of money, but we still intend to spend some time in Europe and northern Africa (by which I mean Morocco and maybe Egypt).

Of course, now that I’ve written all of that, I’m sure something will happen to completely derail those plans, since the one thing we seem to be able to rely on is that as soon as we commit to one thing, something else crops up that makes us wish we hadn’t!

One year later, this crazy travel dream of ours is still alive and well. There have been moments on this journey where I have been so content with my current situation and circumstances that it’s overridden my desire to keep moving and to see a little bit more of the world. Contentment is nice: it’s comforting and it allows us to stop striving, to simply be as we are and to be satisfied with what is. But happiness, it is an active pursuit, an active pleasure, and at the one year mark, I’m no longer content with being content; I’m on the hunt for happiness once more and it is this renewed purpose that has me on fire to see and experience as much of this world as I can.

This renewed restlessness calls to mind a quote from one of my favorite television shows of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fittingly, the episode is called “Restless”, and it’s a dreamy kaleidoscope of images and symbols that are rife for analysis and interpretation. It ends with words that I haven’t heard spoken aloud in nearly a decade, but they’ve been flitting through my mind for the past week or so. I think they sum up perfectly this wild and crazy journey thus far, and I can think of no better way to kick off our second year of travel and all I’m sure it will bring than to leave you with them now:

“You think you know, what’s to come, what you are. You haven’t even begun.”

Sunset over Amed, Bali

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30 comments Leave a comment

  1. Congratulations on a year of travel. Its sounds like this is just the beginning though and there are lots of adventures and new places to visit still to come.

    And Europe has some amazing things to offer but most importantly an array of real cheese!

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 3:41 am
  2. Congrats on one great year! It’s so awesome that you’re still out there traveling and going for more. I’m glad you guys slowed down and didn’t follow your original plan. My RTW was only 5 months and most of it was too planned out, and I regret that. I’m looking forward to seeing where you end up later down the road…maybe Latin America will grab you!

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 4:23 am
  3. Wow, a year long full of travel. That must have been heaven. Traveling is so much fun and you’re lucky enough to experience such blessing. Thanks for sharing your experience Steph. 🙂

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 4:46 am
  4. Happy anniversary! You sure had a great year and I really enjoyed reading all about it! You will love Nepal. It is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. We even considered moving there, because we loved it so much. Europe will be completely different to Asia. No more meals for under $2 I’m afraid, but on the other hand you can eat as much cheese as you want. Oh I miss cheese! 🙂

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 4:52 am
  5. It’s so true that you change in so many ways when you experience the freedom of travel – even in some ways you don’t realise at the time. And as for feeling scared about moving on to Europe – I feel scared every time I leave somewhere I’ve become comfortable but I guess that’s the beauty of travel. It forces you to leave comfort zones and discover new things about a place…and yourself. Also, I find it kinda of scary in itself how quickly I can become “comfortable” – I guess that’s why I needed to travel in the first place.

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 5:31 am
  6. Dearest Steph and Tony,

    I could not be more supportive of this excellent post. The deep insights you have clearly gained in your year of travelling actually brought a tear to my eye! Perhaps it’s because I can so completely relate to your experience.

    I am VERY excited to hear that you have down in black and white that India is on your agenda, although I laughed at your share that your plans change, as ours do (so often) too! Please do look us up when you get closer to Nepal and, indeed, to India!

    You two are awesome, day by day, it just gets more awesome.

    Enough gushing for now.

    Love x

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 6:03 am
  7. One year. Unbelievable. It really does seem like it was just yesterday that we were (virtually) wishing you bon voyage! I have loved reading your posts this past year; watching you grow and change as you share your very personal journey with us. We haven’t managed to meet this year (despite getting close to it!) – I am hopeful that it will happen this coming year! Happy Travel-versary to both of you!

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 6:14 am
  8. Simon noblw

    Keep it up you two. You’ve got your finger on the pulse. Keep it there!

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 7:10 am
  9. I had wondered what you guys had planned for when you reached the one-year mark. I didn’t know if you were still coming home like originally planned or if you were going to keep going for longer. I look forward to hearing more about continuing adventures (once I hear about all the old ones, of course – time lag on the blog makes perfect sense!!). And I’m really excited about reading about Indonesia, which is one place I really, really want to go one day!

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 7:29 am
  10. Congratulations on a year, looking forward to seeing what year two brings!

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 8:07 am
  11. Congrats on your ‘travelsary’ guys, you did it!
    It’s nice to read that there is still so much expectation and willingness to keep going. For most of the cases (ourselves included) is true what they say, when you get the travel bug is so difficult to get rid of it, I would happily keep it instead 🙂

    Make the most of it and HAPPY TRAVELS!

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 8:25 am
  12. It’s been such a joy watching your growth and change through all these incredible experiences. I remember when I first found your blog and was so excited by it because we’re almost exactly a year behind you and you went to so many of the places we hope to go. It’s unbelievably encouraging. Although I’m still really mad at myself for not insisting to Shawn that we take some motorcycle training. 🙂

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 9:49 am
  13. Ana Van Gulick

    So happy for you guys! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for the last year and especially going into all the stresses and life changes of my dissertation year now it’s really good to read your thoughts on the world beyond our little place here in Nashville 🙂

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 1:35 pm
  14. Holy shit my friend, that is some deep reflecting on being on the road for a year! I was planning on writing something about being away for a year but I think I’ll skip it. It will never be as powerful as what you wrote here.

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 1:42 pm
  15. Congrats!! I can’t wait to see where the next year takes you!

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 4:07 pm
  16. Congratulations on a year well lived, well loved, and well explored. Your sense of peace flows out in every word you write, and it is a joy to follow your journey. I especially like what you said about life back home not being on pause – I think sometimes travellers can overlook the changes that happen in their absence, and with our pitstop back to the UK next month, this is something I have been giving a lot of thought to. I think it’s an important part of our journey to respect the paths of those we leave behind, and to hold them with as much value as we do our own. Looking forward to hearing more about your plans over lunch tomorrow!!!

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 8:13 pm
  17. What a beautiful post. It’s funny how quickly those milestones pass while you’re off exploring the world.

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 10:07 pm
  18. Dammit! I knew you guys were gonna beat me to this post and then I would feel bad that I haven’t written mine yet 🙂 Thanks for the kick in the butt!

    Big congrats on your ‘travelversary’ (can that be a word now?) !!! Wishing you a year 2 just as exciting and full of adventure.

    Aug. 14 2013 @ 12:19 am
  19. Love that Buffy quote! My time in East Asia is also coming to an end. After two years in Shanghai, we are returning home to the States for a little while. But we’ll soon be off to Europe so I do hope our paths cross somewhere on that continent. Looking forward to your posts on Indonesia!

    Aug. 15 2013 @ 9:03 am
  20. Congrats on the one year! Your plans for the second sound really exciting. It’s always so scary pushing yourself out of where you’re comfortable to discover somewhere new, good on you both for following your wanderlust! Can’t wait to read about your adventures in Nepal and India.

    Aug. 15 2013 @ 10:38 am
  21. This is amazing guys. Love hearing your reflections after one year, and your plans to keep traveling going! Your notes on patience and kindness, on freedom and consciously pursuing happiness are exactly what we are aspiring to. Can’t wait to keep reading your travel stories and see where you end up-hoping our paths will cross one day!

    Aug. 17 2013 @ 10:37 pm
  22. Congrats on your first year of travel! It’s interesting to hear how Asia has now become your ‘normal’; I was just thinking the other day that by the time Andrew and I head back to Europe in 2014 we will have spent a whole year in Asia – right now that sounds absolutely crazy and a bit terrifying to me! After three months here I think we’re still at the point where Asia feels strange and new so it’s comforting to think that, like you, it might grow to feel like home in the coming months. You’re right too about the need to keep stretching out of your comfort zone – I look forward to seeing where your second year of travel takes you!

    Aug. 18 2013 @ 5:09 am
  23. Hi Steph and Tony, congratulations of the 1st year anniversary of living your dream. I feel so honored to have a glimpse of your very inspiring journey. Keep the dream boiling and I look forward to following your year 2 journey. Your itinerary sounds like you’re in for great, big adventures.

    Aug. 18 2013 @ 8:42 am
  24. What a beautiful post! Definitely gave me goosebumps and a surge of motivation for my own plans; I ache for the day to be responsible for only myself and my own expectations. Good luck in all that is to come!

    Aug. 18 2013 @ 2:39 pm
  25. This is such a beautifully written post Steph. It’s always interesting to look back on a period of travel or situation in our lives to see what, if anything, has changed and you have summed it up so eloquently. Here’s to many more years of stretching your patience muscle and realising that life doesn’t stand still, it just moves at different paces 🙂

    Aug. 20 2013 @ 3:33 pm
  26. Well done guys…. it’s a real milestone, and I wish you all the best for the next stage of your journey.

    Aug. 28 2013 @ 4:18 am
  27. Wow has it really been one year? Time passes by, not just for you, but for me ;). I just passed 2 years of anniversary in London a couple of months ago, and I’m on year 3, living in the UK and traveling all around Europe. That also means I haven’t been back to Asia or Australia for that long, and I miss them a bit. Hope to be able to go back next year and do a bit of traveling around the area for a couple of weeks. Though by that time you’re probably already in Europe!

    Aug. 30 2013 @ 4:14 am
  28. Congratulations guys, what a wonderful journey you have had and it has been an honor to follow along! Here’s to year 2 (it just gets better!!!) 🙂

    Aug. 31 2013 @ 3:51 am
  29. That Bali sunset pic is incredible! I’m sure you’ll love Europe if you do come this way eventually. Enjoy your next year of travels!

    Sep. 2 2013 @ 12:24 pm
  30. Wonderful post! I just hit my one year of travel too and could relate to so many of your points after my year in Asia. I love your point of actively seeking happiness, that is so wonderful to be mindful of.
    For me, the year has gone by in a flash, it feels like hardly any time has passed and yet as you said, I have many new friends with babies and weddings missed. It is exciting to feel we made it the year and know that we are up for many more though.
    Good luck on your continued travel!

    Mar. 26 2014 @ 4:29 am

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