Four and a half years of travel and the prospect of going back to a “home” is chilling me down to the bones.
The longer traveling stories I have read or the people I know that have embraced a nomadic style of life for awhile reach, what I would call right now, the Nirvana of travel, or that moment of being ready to stop and settle down. They look forward to it with a feeling of accomplishment and satiety.
I fully expected that feeling the first year we were on the road. The next one I was sure it is awaiting me just around the corner. The third one I was starting to get worried and the fourth… The fourth year, along with the financial realities that were regularly dropping reminder hail on my head, came the panic that maybe, increasingly likely, the blissful feeling of desire to settle down will never grace me with its comforting warmth.
One of the big reasons people cite as being ready to stop is the need for a more stable social life. Some feel the kids really need the school environment and regular friends. Others miss the community that can develop when one is not constantly on the move. All very fair points. The problem is that they don’t apply to me and us. We must have done this in some different way, because even though I consider myself a very social person, I have never felt as close to humanity as in the last 4.5 years. Couchsurfing and crashing with friends of friends has helped us make some incredible connections with people. And yes, you can develop an amazing bond with a person in just one week, at the same time as you are struggling to find a reason to like a relative.
I feel connected to the amazing woman in Bali that showed me patiently her garden and shared recipes with me. To the family in Penang and the odd and incredible man in China, who is now somewhere in Nepal pedaling away and helping children learn. To the Indian rastafarian who left us the keys to his place in Dubai and then invited us for dinner at his girlfriend’s place too. To the Japanese family that showed us their small town and the man in Cairo who used to make my kids laugh, make popcorn in an old pot and let them throw it all around the hostel saying “let them, we will clean it easily”, while outside Egypt was trying to awaken. To the new friends in Bulgaria who embraced us like old family. To the wonderful woman in Austria who made cakes with my children, and whose smile and warmth I will never forget. To my new Finish friends, whose whole community embraced us like a warm hug and tried to convince us to move next door. To the Iraqi doctor who works in Norway and fit us with ease in his tiny apartment. To the little boy in France that made us crepes right after we arrived in his house and the graceful woman with the long plaited hair in a small town in the South of the country who took us on long walks with her dog. To my new beloved Spanish family, one of which left this world way too early… To the man in Canada that made us laugh and thought us how to work with leather in his garage-workshop. To the underground artists in Belfast who showed us a side of the city we would have never seen. To the family up in Ireland who were not only great conversationalists, but appeared to enjoy my chicken and rice. To my Spanish teachers, with whom I spent many hours horsing around with, probably more than I spent studying. To the family in Scotland that took us in as strangers after I knocked on their door out of the blue, and we left as friends. To the young backpacker who we adopted for a month in Central America and his family we got to meet much later. To my ‘wife’ in Canada and her whole community. To the woman with the amazing garden in Lithuania who stirred flower petals in our butter for breakfast and with whom I cried as we said goodbye. I have cried a lot. Many painful goodbyes, but only because there were many worthwhile hellos. Too many to list.
My kids carry memories of giggling with the rubics cube boy in Malaysia, fishing with a family in Iceland, building Lego with the Latvian brothers, bicycling with the local kids in winter Toronto, catching up with friends they made in India in Philadelphia, but most of all of people opening their homes and hearts to them. In every country. Time and time again. They are connected, even if they don’t consciously acknowledge it yet.
The way we have traveled has ‘forced’ us to meet, engage and get close to people that we would have never met otherwise. In a settled existence, it will take more than a lifetime to accumulate such a close and personal time with that many people. I will miss that the most.
I am not tired either. Yes, I feel slight nausea at having to look for yet another dirt cheap but livable accommodation, but I am not tired of travel. No burn out here. I can enjoy a day of sitting around chatting with new people, or a day crisscrossing a city, or going up a mountain, whatever the new day throws at me. Most importantly, being mobile on a tiny budget asks, no demands, of me to be flexible, agile, smart, creative and at ease with myself in order not only to succeed, but to enjoy it. I like that. I really like it.
I don’t know what my children would take away from this experience, but seeing them adjust and fit-in in such a wide variety of situations that we have put them in – makes me proud. They are like little chameleons, but not in a deceitful way, because they never lose themselves in it. How much more can I give them, other than the ability to be flexible, to be respectful of others and to be free of fear of the world around them? I don’t know.
I don’t have any desire to settle down. The rest of the family is not bothered by it either way, which is good, because I will suffer this period of unwelcome adjustment alone.
Maybe I am broken. I think I have been from the time I was born, because my life has been everything but the pursuit of spreading roots and the search of security. In the end, we all carry our own difficult to deal with traits and have to try fitting them into this often stringent and rigid reality as best as we can.
One thing I know is that I will be fine. Eventually.
Right now I am somewhat lost just as I am about to appear found.