1 year, 4 months and 9 days. 71 weeks to the day after setting off for Mexico, in considerably worse shape and more than considerably worse off, we’re coming home again. Yes, we have been back in the meantime, but this time is different. It’s different because we don’t know what is coming next.
Reaching the end of a mammoth trip like this is strange. It’s like the end of a relationship in a way, but one where the travel has dumped us and not the other way around. There’s a lot of sadness that it’s over and reflections on the stuff we could have done differently, rather than remembering all the brilliant times we had. Lots of “shoulda woulda coulda,” and very little in the way of acceptance that maybe this is the best thing for us, simply because we want it back.
The latter stages of such a long adventure have been so different to the backpacking we had done previously. We found a second home in New Zealand, a place that thanks to the generosity and the welcome of friends, found a place in our hearts like no other. On a practical note, we had a car of our own, a bedroom, a place to put our clothes, a local shop, all the things that we didn’t know we would miss before we left. It made it gut-wrenching to leave, but thankfully we next headed to Australia where once again we were made so welcome by our friends. In Sydney we stayed with an old friend Kate, someone who both Sadie and I have known since we were children. It was like staying with family, and softened the blow of leaving NZ somewhat. Our next stops were Brisbane and Melbourne, and we stayed with friends who we had met back in our very first stop, Mexico. Having only known them all for short periods of time, we didn’t know what to expect too much, but their hospitality absolutely blew us away. Our “travel friends” will be friends for life, of that I am certain. They showed us kindness that I can only hope we will repay one day if they ever find themselves in our hemisphere.
The flip side of this wonderful experience was that it made us feel very much at home. That doesn’t seem like a bad thing – and it isn’t – but we felt like we were living in a place, not visiting. It took all the urgency out of us and that, coupled with what by now is quite apparent travel burn-out, we struggled to motivate ourselves to go and be tourists. We were happy simply to see our friends and do what they would do on a weekend, something which I think may have surprised our hosts, who would have wanted to show off their incredible cities. Burn-out affects lots of long-term travellers. When you become apathetic to the amazing things you are seeing in front of you, and to not be grateful for the opportunity you’re currently experiencing, it’s time that relationship comes to an end. It’s time to go home.
To exemplify my point, I am writing this in Dubai. Our friends Lauren and James have put us up in their lovely apartment and they want to show us the city. Unfortunately, Sadie is unwell and the weather hasn’t been on our side, but we are just as happy merely existing, going to the mall and watching films, as we would be exploring the cool stuff on our doorstep. It’s laziness, induced by the feeling that maybe we’ve seen everything, or at least enough, already. And to be honest, that makes me feel guilty as hell, like a spoiled, prissy, first-world-problem-burdened little shit, and adds to the teetering “shoulda woulda coulda” pile to boot.
Such is the contradiction we are both feeling. We know it’s time to go home, but we don’t want to. We want to travel more, see more awesome things, eat more exotic food, meet more incredible people. But we both know that if we carry on we aren’t going to appreciate these things. We need a dose of reality to make us realise quite how fortunate we have been.
This time however, the reality is tinged with uncertainty and contradiction. We want to keep travelling but need to go home. We need some structure but don’t know for how long. We need to save some money but we can’t move back into our own house. We’ve got a wedding coming up in August, but what after? Maybe a trip to Eastern Europe or Asia, maybe work for a month or two more. We’re honestly not sure right now, which is both as liberating as it is terrifying.
For now, it’s time to say goodbye to the road. As George Moore once said, a man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it. We have had, make no mistake about it, a fucking unreal adventure. We’ve seen things we never thought we’d see, done things we never thought we’d do. We’ve met incredible people and made friends for life. We’ve been to 31 countries on 5 continents, covered hundreds of thousands if not millions of miles and spent enough money that it makes me cry if I think about it too much. We made mistakes, we were too ambitious at times, not ambitious enough at others. We spent far too much money. Had too much structure and pre-booked too much. We slept on airport floors, got savaged by bedbugs. We burnt, we froze, we got stuck at borders, we got stranded in the middle of nowhere, got lost, got robbed, got sick and fell out (a lot). And you know what? I wouldn’t change it for the world.
We’re coming home. I think we found what we were looking for, I’m just not quite sure what it was yet. I’ll let you know when I do.
P.S from Sadie: As much as I wish I could tell you I’ve changed for the better, that these experiences have enriched me or taught me something deep about myself, I can’t. From the age of 18 and my first big trip abroad, I have treasured travel. Nothing challenges me quite the same way, and I can’t stress how important I think it is to see as much of this beautiful world as possible, with its varied cultures, people and privilege. I never dreamed to see so much of it in a lifetime, and as clichéd as it is, I feel so damn blessed to. I also feel a little sad, that I can never experience so much afresh again, which is one of the many reasons it is time to take a break. I feel very lucky to have met the people I have, and experience such generosity from so many.
My lasting feeling though, is how lucky I am to have every spent every beautiful, frustrating and tiring day with the man I am going to marry. My parents worked their asses off, waiting for the weekend, for holidays, for retirement, for some proper time to spend together. Unfortunately, my father died at the age of 56 and left my dear mother to experience that well-earned freedom alone. This whole trip kinda started because I didn’t want to take that same gamble, to wait for our lives to start. Thank goodness I didn’t, and thank you Mark, for looking after me, loving me, and most of all, joining me on this crazy adventure. It’s been a blast.
Some of our highlights…