On November 30, I will be celebrating four years of travel.
It’s hard to process and communicate such a long period of time succinctly. I wish I could wrap it up in a neat 500-word package and deliver it with a smile and a have a good day, but four years of travel isn’t tidy like that.
The significance of the past four years is further impacted because of the period of my life I’ve been traveling. On November 30, 2007, I was 22. Other people in their early to mid-20s are meeting their future spouses, marrying them, having kids with them, buying houses, and building up their careers. They have bills, credit cards, and car payments.
Me? I’ve swapped a mortgage for hotel stays, car notes for tickets on buses and planes, and as far as meeting a potential husband…. Yeah no.
I think back to my 22-year-old self with fondness. I remember the insuppressible excitement of quitting my job. How I felt when I hit the purchase button for a one-way ticket to Auckland. Trading my apartment for a backpack.
Getting rid of my belongings was the first step to liberation. Most of it ended up at Goodwill. I handed over my most prized possession, a carefully cultivated collection of hip hop mixtapes, to a random guy walking through my apartment complex.
I remember settling into my first overseas flat in Wellington. At first, I found the Kiwi accent weird and the slang incomprehensible. I firmly stuck to my American way of speaking. Then I softened. I begin to appreciate the random words that were different and began to use them myself.
I became hooked on being a cultural chameleon. In Australia, I pronounced Melbourne the right way. In Indonesia, I shocked a taxi driver with the amount of Bahasa Indonesia I had picked up in my month-long stay. I’ve been mistaken for a local in half of the countries I’ve been to.
I’ve had roommates from six continents. I myself have traveled to five. I’ve learned Spanish. I’ve had to add more pages to my passport to accommodate new entry/exit stamps and visas.
I’ve made dozens of friends from all over the world. I’ve fallen for a few guys. I’ve pet tigers and lions, held koalas and snakes, fed wild monkeys, gotten up close to the sperm whale.
But the high is gone. The rush I used to get when touching down in a new city, throwing my bags next to my hostel bed, and running out to explore the place has vanished. After years of continuous travel, what was once thrilling is now ordinary. Riding in the back of a taxi from an airport to a hotel, I gaze out the windows not with adrenaline pumping through my veins, but just with interest.
I wander new streets with curiosity, but not enthusiasm. New signs, faces, restaurants, cafes – even though I haven’t been to this particular place, it feels familiar. It feels like I’ve done it all before.
I became aware of this phenomenon a year ago, when I traveled with my then boyfriend to Ecuador, which was his first time visiting a new country. I’ve never spent so much time with a newbie traveler before, and it was eye opening. I observed his paranoid precautions, his child-like wonderment at new experiences, his inadaptability and egocentrism. Was I like that in the beginning too?
I am sad that the high is gone. I often wonder if something is wrong with me. If these four years of a nomadic lifestyle, with no home base, have affected me in ways that only a fellow nomad could understand. I wonder if I will get over this hump and break through to another new and fresh level of travel.
When strangers casually ask me about myself, it makes me a little uncomfortable. Why are you here? No particular reason. Because I’m a nomad. They laugh. I used to feel challenged by this laugh to launch into a diatribe to prove that I am what I say I am. Now, I just grimace and change the subject.
I’m certainly not trying to make it sound like I am bitter or bored. I’m not. But reflecting on four years of travel, as I said, is messy. It makes me feel old, wise, young, and clueless all at once.
At the base of all of these feelings is one of pride. I’m proud that I endured all the challenges I have come across. Proud that I followed (and follow) my dream, despite its radicalism, despite what everyone else my age is doing. Proud of my growth, of how far I’ve come, of who I am.
Here’s to another four years.