The Unexpected Ways Traveling Changed Me
I’ve been back from my RTW trip six weeks and I’m only JUST starting to figure out how traveling for six months has changed me. I had hoped I would notice differences on the road. You know, getting calmer, cooler, riskier, freer or just better at navigation. Instead, outside my comfort zone, I was more frazzled, lame, nervous, closed off and got lost wherever I went. Maybe there was some kind of growth delay but I’ve realized I’m not the same person who took off from Bangkok six months ago. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
I Reject Technology
Like the loser I am, I lost my iPhone on the very last day of our trip. Since returning home I’ve been using my parent’s 1998 flip phone…and loving it. Besides phone calls and some very limited texting, it doesn’t really do a whole lot so I find I’m much more plugged in to what’s happening right in front of me. I don’t check email, Google anything or troll Facebook when I’m out with friends. I used to put my phone next to my plate when I was out to dinner or brunch, now I forget my phone is even in my purse. I love the confused look I get from people on the street, is she retro or passé? It also has the most satisfying click when you snap it shut.
My Clothes Freak Me Out
Wearing the same tank top, jean shorts and sneakers for months made me feel like my fourth grade gym teacher. Even though my boyfriend, Mike, insisted he liked my “new look”, I didn’t feel particularly attractive. I needed lots of affirmation which was like catnip for Mike. I missed my clothes, I really missed my shoes, I missed options. I pictured a teary, slow motion reunion with my closet, usually to the soundtrack of Groovy Kind of Love by Phil Collins or If I Ain’t Got You by Alicia Keys.
Instead it was overwhelming. I have WAY too many dresses, I forgot how to hang suit pants, and running out of closet space for my shoes made me feel like a hoarder. In the end, I only unpacked about half, leaving the rest in boxes in the basement for when I’m mentally prepared to sort and edit. In the meantime, I’m typing away in the same ratty jean shorts and flannel shirt I wore all through South East Asia and South America.
My Relationship With Cities Got Complicated
I lived in Brooklyn for fives years, DC for four and spent six hurly burly months in Bangkok, essentially a concrete jungle. I love museums, crowds, open fire hydrants, bustle, rooftop bars, the cultural smorgasbord, cityscapes, and all the oddballs. I love public transportation the way my boyfriend loves cars. I had a car only once named Princess Helga for one lousy semester in college.
After exploring luminous cities like Hanoi, Athens, Prague, Amsterdam, Paris and Buenos Aires, I’m astounded to discover I prefer the simplicity of places like Sam Roi Yod, Phong Nha, Trapeang Roung, Doolin, San Pedro and El Bolson. Now I find myself daydreaming about living in Idaho or Colorado, and clicking on articles entitled The Best Places to Raise an Outdoor Kid and I don’t even have children.
Everything Is In Slooooow Motion
Something about a 12 hour, 18 hour or 26 hour bus ride does something to you. My first long ride was hot, cramped and there was a loud movie on where the hero was strangling a bad guy with his own disemboweled intestines. I couldn’t read my book because I get carsick like other people get lattes. I envisioned wedging my body out the tiny window, rolling across the dusty dirt road and running for my sanity.
I got better at bus rides. I downloaded podcasts, packed snacks, brought tissues, and purchased earplugs and an eye mask for overnight rides. But I’ve realized that in addition to being physically prepared, I must’ve flipped a mental switch somewhere too. A typical extrovert, sitting still for long stretches of time without diversion was the equivalent of having bamboo shoots stuck under my fingernails. These days, like a well-mixed Benadryl cocktail, I’m closer to a comatose toddler on a long flight.
Call Me Superchill
Shortly after we met, Mike gave me a superhero alter ego called Superchill. She’s the protector of peace, the savior of serenity, the champion of cool…basically everything I’m not. Faced with Mike’s unshakable tranquility during our world travels (I suspect he was popping Quaaludes like M&Ms), I only became more flustered and frustrated. I stressed about what museums to hit or where we should go for dinner. I worried about staying in the moment instead of, you know, doing it.
Danny Kaye said, “To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” Well, I did but I found I didn’t always like what I saw. Returning home, I’ve entered into the Zen state I could only dream about on the road. I’m not pretending to be calm, I feel like I’ve been shot with a tranq dart. Perhaps it took coming back to truly appreciate where I’d gone but I’m already pushing Mike to plan our next trip and this time I’ll navigate it with a little more patience, grace and gratitude.
I’ll Talk to Anyone
Maybe it was the dude in Paris who made it his mission to get me to my sister’s apartment, the strangers in Athens who all worked together so Mike and I wouldn’t miss our bus to Sounion, the uber chatty Polish dudes who shared their car with us to Siam Reap, or the friendly Europeans who gave us delicious hostel-made soup in Jerusalem, but these days I will LITERALLY talk to anyone.
Gone is the city-trained gal who keeps her head down, her earplugs in and a book at hand. Banter with construction workers in a manhole, check. Furniture chat with tattooed fella in Boston, check. Pleasantries with the sweaty Xfinity sales guy on the corner, check, check. In fact, pretty sure I creeped out two girls in Soul Cycle the other day trying to befriend them. It’s official – I’m my mother.
Aaaaaaaand I’m Happy
I used to run every day. Alright, almost every day. I used those miles to work through stress, job issues, personal problems or just to pump some much-needed endorphins into my system. While traveling, walking, hiking and biking replaced yogging. As we neared the end of our trip, I looked forward to lacing up my running shoes, updating my playlist and hitting the road. Instead, running felt like a chore. I couldn’t find my rhythm, my mind wouldn’t drift, and, for the first time, I was bored. So, true to form, I ran even more, convinced I just needed to hit my stride. Then after a particularly grueling jog it hit me: I’m happy.
Running was something I did when I was anxious or upset…which was a lot. It helped me clear my mind and feel better. Right now, I feel good. I still don’t have a job, my savings account is grim(ish) and I’m living in my high school bedroom as a full-fledged adult but I’m content which is not something I could’ve said a year ago. I hope to return to running in a more constructive way soon but, in the meantime, there’s Soul Cycle, yoga, trampolining, rock climbing, boxing, paddle boarding or just walking around town.