I had no idea what to expect when I started traveling 14 months ago. I knew I would be tried and tested and would return home as a more worldly and wise individual. I would learn things of the world, eat new foods and find myself in compromising positions.
Well, I've done all this and heaps more. But it's not about what I've done that makes my trip so interesting, and it's not as though I sat back, pondered, stroked my billy-goat beard and thought of the things I'd never do in my lifetime. There are just some things that, looking back on my travels so far, stand out as items that I wouldn't expect to experience.
Granted, looking back on my life as a whole, I realize it's a cavalcade of really bizarre and outrageous experiences. But I've seen and done some awfully interesting things since I've been on the road, most of which I never would have anticipated.
What's paradise anyway? Well, I can't say that I know for sure, but I do know that, when I found this place, it's the only word I could think of. How many people can say they've found a location in the world where they would be perfectly content to do nothing there for the rest of their life? All I could do was explore, go swimming, snap photos and smile. My face and jaw ached that day from the ear-to-ear stretch, and I would have been happy to stay there forever.
But is my paradise only good for that one particular date or would I be able to return at another time and love it just as much? Who knows. But I'm glad I made it.
Having grown up in a family that's well-off enough that homelessness wasn't ever a concern, I never considered the fact that I might, one day, be without a place to stay for the evening…or multiple evenings. I had thought that it might happen when I left home with nothing but three nights' accommodation booked in Sydney, Australia, but that is, of course, entirely different than actually being without a home.
Luckily, I've had friends' couches to crash on or cars to sleep in, so I've never spent a night on the street. And I'm thankful for that, although I'm sure it would have made a great story to tell.
My childhood years excepted, I've never been one to fall by the wayside, feeling left out, forgotten about or just plain lonely. 14 months later, though, solo travel still takes its toll. It isn't until you've left everything and everyone behind that you truly understand what it means to have something.
More than being without friends, family or home, though, being absent from my native culture seems to be the main protagonist. I love learning about new people and their cultures, but never in my life have I been learning for so long. It gets to you.
We know that we're self-centered and fairly uneducated about the world. I didn't even realize there was a difference between the UK and Great Britain until just a couple of months ago. But I'd never had somebody look me directly in the eye and say, “I don't like Americans.”
Admittedly, most people with anti-American sentiment will say that they don't like America, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't heard the former. It's a bit disconcerting.
Made a Lot of Friends From a Lot of Other Countries
This one seems pretty basic but, looking at my Facebook news feed, there's a lot of German, Swedish and French crossing my line of sight these days. Never before have I had so many connections to so many people in so many countries. I'll never see most of them again, but it's comforting knowing that they're just an email away if I ever happen to make it to their corner of the world.
Lived Without a Computer for Six Months
Not having a computer is almost tantamount to blasphemy, as far as I'm concerned. I've grown up with them, worked in the industry and have always had one by my side. Crossing to Western Massachusetts with nothing but a spare change of clothes in my trunk (fine, the boot) was a big deal, once upon a time. That was my vacation, at one point in my life–visiting mates at my alma mater or heading to my buddy's house for the weekend, no computer needed. I could deal with a couple days, though.
Six months? Now that's just crazy. Luckily my iPhone was there to keep me afloat, and it definitely saved me on more than a few occasions. Sometimes I actually wonder how I managed to survive on internet cafes alone. To be honest, though, I look forward to doing it again.
It's been an extraordinary odyssey, and I'm ecstatic to be able to pronounce that it's not quite over. I don't know when it will be, either.
And that's the beauty of it.
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