I’ve been home now for over a week and had a lot of time to reflect on the trip we’ve been on. It’s pretty amazing to think of all the places we’ve been, and going through shipments we sent home from SE Asia, it’s hard to believe that all that time ago we were in Thailand or Vietnam. Europe still feels so fresh, and like with my trip to South America, the memories from every stop are so vivid, the sites, the smells, the feel of every country. It’s great to go on Facebook and see posts in all different languages from friends we made around the world, and it’s interesting to run into people that have followed our blog, especially the unexpected ones. So I guess this will be my last blog entry about this trip, and although I won’t stop thinking about it, now is the time to finish it, but use what it has taught me to continue on with my life.
The world is a big place, to say the least, and even though we covered 25 countries, I feel like we have just begun to scratch the surface of traveling and seeing what the world has to offer. As we moved, I became more interested in culture, art, history, and language. My mother in law said something very interesting about the way I travel, something that I’d never thought about, something that I’d never strived for, but it meant a lot to me and perhaps defines me as a traveler. She said that when she goes on vacation, they go to where they are supposed to, visit the old towns, eat at the restaurant with the big sign that says “typical food” or something like that. But not me, she was amazed after reading my book about how I search, travel, and struggle to find the real culture, no matter where it is. In this trip I think we were able to do this, to find the true culture, and I think that only a backpacker, without the strict limits of time or pre planning can do this, and that’s why I love to throw on a pack and see where I end up. Our friend Julia half criticized me for saying hello to everyone that I see, but this is the only way to connect, with a smile and a greeting, because you never know who you are going to meet and where that is going to take you.
We started our trip so far back in Fiji, in an amazing setting with wonderful locals, great backpackers, unbearable heat and our first and only real illness of the trip. The nights there were full of hope, laughter, and a realization that our dream had begun. As we continued through New Zealand and Australia, I was forced to really change my style of backpacking, my first time on a tight budget in a first world country, a complete 180 from the way that I traveled through South America. Then Asia, the heat, the confusion, but most of all, the inability to communicate, taught me so much about keeping calm, guarding my frustration, and overcoming obstacles. Asia was difficult because I wanted to talk to people, I wanted to learn, and when we did get the opportunity to talk to someone it was amazing, but I again added a notch to the backpack, and was forced to change how we traveled to adjust to not being able to communicate. The Middle East was a wondrous stop after Asia. From the moment that the plane made an unannounced stop in Lebanon, I knew that this would be a part of the trip full of surprises and tests. Jordan and Israel felt like we were walking through the pages of a history book. They were so raw and extreme, and the old town of Jerusalem was one of the most exciting places I have ever been in my life. Europe was tougher than we thought it would be. Everything was a bit more expensive than we’d hoped. It was hotter or colder than we’d expected. We had more trouble communicating than in Asia. Returning to Europe a bit older and a bit more traveled allowed us to choose places to visit both on and off the tourist path and having friends in those places gave us the opportunity to see cities from a unique perspective.
I look back on this trip not as something that’s finished, but something that is continuing. I hope to be able to use the experiences gained in the future, bring them to work, to our relationship, to my friendships and to whatever obstacles we encounter. I have come home a bit more relaxed, more knowledgeable, and in a marriage that has been through more than most. I’ve put almost 60000 more miles on my backpack and gained so many new friends in different countries. I’ve renewed my love of reading, food, wine, and relearned the importance of a comfortable bed, good service, and multiple drawers full of clean clothes. I’ve now spent over two years of my life with a backpack on, and although I think that this is the end of this type of adventure, I know that the backpacker spirit is alive within me, always eager to explore, learn, teach, communicate, laugh, and cry. The difficulties of a horrible night in a loud room or an old bus are worth the joys of a steaming hot bowl of the best soup you’ve ever tasted, and that a pounding hangover is worth the friends that you made and kept you out until the wee hours of the morning. The pain of carrying your backpack through the summer sun in Europe is worth that small restaurant hidden behind the church, or the smile of the B&B owner that goes the extra step to make sure you are welcome in their town. The struggle to save money gives the opportunity to go where only the locals go, and the few words of a language that we learn allows the chance to communicate.
Those nights in Fiji were just the start of the realization of a dream, and we slept in 110 different beds along the way, each time not knowing what the next day would hold. Life is short, and fear is pointless. We just celebrated life for 10 months, and I hope that when we see you, you can notice the joy that we both feel, and in my words, I hope you can hear the enthusiasm we had. I loved the cities, the chaos of Saigon, the beauty of Paris, the joy of being with friends and family in London. I smile when I think of the small towns, my love of Koh Phangan, the perfection of Belluno and everywhere in between. For all those people that we met along the way, thank you, you made our trip, you opened your doors, you took us in, and you made this trip a success. To everyone that we knew and saw while going, thank you for the break, thank you for allowing us to come home even for just a few hours over tapas in Barcelona or dinner overlooking the bay in Sydney.
Favorite place: Koh Phangan, Thailand
Favorite City: Paris/Saigon
Least favorite city: Naples
Favorite beach town: Byron Bay, Australia
Worst night of travel: Hoi An to Hanoi
Most memorable restaurant meal: Hosteria il Brigante, Salerno, Italy
Favorite night out: tie Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan / Bukowski’s Bar, Prague
Best Sunset: Fiji or Santorini, Greece
Reading List: (chronological order) *=FAVORITES
The Grapes of Wrath- J. Steinbeck *
Lincoln- Gore Vidal
A Cooks Tour- Anthony Bourdaine
The Overcoat and other Stories- Gogol
The Quiet American- Graham Greene
100 Years of Solitude- Gabriel Garcia Marquez *
Satanic Verses- Salmon Rushdie
A Thousand Splendid Suns- Khaled Hosseini *
The Odyssey- Homer
Summer of Fear- T. Jefferson Parker
Anarchy and Old Dogs- Colin Cotterill
Kiterunner- Khaled Hosseini
Juliet, Naked- Nick Hornby
Love in the time of Cholera- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The School Mistress with the Golden Eyes- Stratis Myrivils
About A Boy- Nick Hornby
Slaughter House 5- Kurt Vonnegut
Shantaram- Gregory Roberts *
The Jacaranda Tree- H.E. Bates
Too Loud a Solitude- Bohumil Hrabal
A History of Language- Steven R Fischer *
Barcelona- A History- J. Castellar-Gassol
Fever Pitch- Nick Hornby
The Mayor of Casterbridge- Thomas Hardy
Tales of the Alhambra- Washington Irving
East of Eden- John Steinbeck