One of the best things about writing this blog, for me, has been that each time I sit down to post, I get to revel in just how unexpected whatever it is I’m about to say would have been to me just days or hours prior to that very moment. I get to remind myself of the novelty of sudden employment. I can marvel at the suddenness with which I can one day decide I’ll go skydiving, or ride a motorcycle. I’m able to sit in awe of the fact that six months ago, I didn’t know a group of people and a place I quickly came to consider my second family and home. Changes arrive without warning when you’re traveling, and the most rewarding realization in a backpacker’s life is that one day you’re no longer shocked by these changes — just grateful that you get to experience them.
Still, as you may have noticed, my last few posts have involved changes that have been quite bittersweet in nature. Saying goodbye to a life that I loved. Leaving a job that drove me, by turns, to maddening frustration and unreasonable happiness. Touching down in a new country with a new work visa and no plan. And these choices have all been leading up to one massive change, one decision, that sees me sitting here tonight writing the last post I ever expected to write: the post where I talk about going home.
But tomorrow night*, after nearly 14 months, I will be on a nighttime flight from Sydney to Honolulu, and from there on to San Francisco. My parents will be waiting for me at SFO when I land at 10:00 p.m. on Friday night in a time zone I’ve only thought about in terms of Skype dates for over a year. And two hours after that, I’ll be in the house where I grew up.
It’s funny that, though I always knew my nomadic lifestyle wouldn’t be sustainable forever, I never truly sat down and thought about what it would feel like to be leaving it. I never contemplated the feeling I’d have neatly rolling my clothes and then smushing them into packing cubes one last time. Or the difficulty I’d have finally tossing the worn-out cross-trainers that saw me through muddy jogs in Laos, treks in the Australian rainforest, and long shifts at the bakery in Arrowtown. I didn’t predict the tears that would pry their way out of my squinched eyes as I faced down the end of what has been, thus far, the most incredible year of my life. I suppose I always thought that when I eventually headed home, the reasons would be clear-cut, reasonable, easily explained: it would just be “time.” I’d be ready to say, “Right, I’ve had my fun. Time to get back to a life of industry and predictability.”
But this idea, as we all know by now, is laughable. It’s no secret that I waiver constantly from total backpacker mindset to longing for a fixed life. I’ve already proclaimed, less than two weeks ago on this very blog, that I would be continuing my journey Down Under, starting over in Australia, and yet here I am now telling you all that I’m quite literally packing it in.
So what’s the deal, here? It’s hard to nail down just one explanation. But if I had to, it would go something like this: Australia is a stunning, magnificent country full of friendly people and a rich culture whose surface I have not even begun to scratch. Everyone I’ve known who’s come here on a working holiday has had the time of their life. I have absolutely nothing against Australia. But I’ve come to feel that it is not the place for me right now. And I’m not sure what place, exactly, is. I am almost chronically incapable of coming to major life decisions, so you can imagine how difficult this one was for me: It’s taken me weeks of sleepless nights to admit to myself that I was perhaps looking at Australia as something I should do simply because I could, rather than as something I actively wanted to do. And it took me a while longer to realize that that was OK, that moving on was not the same as giving up.
So I’m heading home for a while to regroup and figure out what it really is that I’d like to do — and where it really is that I’d like to go — for the next phase.
And I know what some of you may be thinking. Hey, I know what I’d be thinking myself six months ago in this kind of situation: Give Australia a try. Ride it out. Things change when you least expect them to. Another few months and you could be sitting pretty in another lifestyle you wouldn’t trade in for the world. And maybe all that’s true. But I don’t feel the need, as I once did, to wait around hoping it will play out that way.
Changes and all, I’m nothing but ecstatic over the way my “year on a whim” has turned out; humbled by and grateful for the friends it’s given me; wildly in love with the once-unimaginable changes it’s brought about in my own behavior and mentality. And that’s how I’d like to forever remember my time down here: as transformative, exciting, rewarding, ridiculous, unpredictable, joyous, painful, perfect. Knowing that, I don’t feel as if I need to try to recreate the same magic in Australia. I’m content.
So, what does all of this mean for the blog going forward? Certainly not that I’ll be giving it up. Only, as I pointed out with such unintentional prescience earlier, that it will be going through some more changes. Future posts might cover re-entering the “real world” after a year of travel, tales of beer and cheese and beer-flavored cheese in Milwaukee with some of my best friends, or the search for a new city (or country) to call my own. Most importantly, there should be planning and fulfillment of myriad new trips I’m already itching to take in other corners of the world. And, with any luck, there’ll be revelations of some new whim I’ve decided to follow into unfamiliar territory.
Because the biggest change this past year has instilled in me is a desire, a need, a consuming drive, to continue experiencing new places and cultures and past times and foods. I may be leaving the southern hemisphere, but you can bet I’m not shoving my backpack — or this blog — into the back of the closet.
I can’t thank you all enough for coming this far with me on this journey, and I hope you’ll stick with me as I delve into this new-next chapter. It’s been a hell of a year, and it’s my sincerest hope — my most important goal — that it’s only the first of many more to come, to experience, and to document right here.
*I know the math doesn’t add up here. How can I be leaving on Friday when it’s only Tuesday night? The truth is, I wrote this post the night before I left Australia (last Thursday, Australian time) and wanted to hold off on publishing it until I’d spent a few days back at home. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting overly emotional over the whole decision; wanted to see how I felt about things from the other side of the Pacific before I sent this sucker out into the world. The verdict, now that I’m here? It does seem a bit emotional, but it’s entirely representative of how it felt to make this decision — so I’m keeping it as-is. Also? I still think I made the right call coming back. At least for me; at least for now. But we’ll get to all of that another time soon.