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Homeward Bound

Photo 1 Homeward Bound

Morning view of Mt. Kilimanjaro from Moshi, Tanzania

I’m in Moshi, Tanzania enjoying my morning cup of chai. The rooster crowing begs cloud-shrouded Mt. Kilimanjaro to peak out above me, revealing the fresh blanket of snow she received from the storm brewing the night before. I hear the whooshing sound of straw brooms whisking storefronts clean of the dusty roads amidst Swahili calls of “Jambo! Mambo?” from street-side vendors.

As the town wakes up and the locals of this verdant, coffee-growing, banana-planting town start their day, I’m packing up my bags. Gearing up for a long haul on the roads of Tanzania, I prepare for the journey to our next destination. It’s a typical Monday morning for me…only it’s not. This is the kind of travel day I’ve come to know, loathe and love so well, but this one, it’s the last.

Photo 2 Homeward Bound

Taking in sunset together over the Taj Mahal

On the road for 14 months, travel has become a part of me. With only a week left, I’m overcome with emotion, my head flooded with a million memories. From the bustling streets of Buenos Aires we’ve made our way around the world to the traffic-choked lanes of Nairobi. We trekked through the Alps – both Southern and Swiss – and climbed to great heights to the peaks of the Himalayas. On camel back, we caravanned deep into the Indian desert and bathed elephants in the rivers of Thailand. We biked through rice paddies in southwest China and kayaked through the crystal clear waters of the Fijian Isles. We’ve watched the morning sun peak out over the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids and cast afternoon shadows over the Sydney Opera House and Serengeti.

We’ve become well-acquainted with squat toilets and sleepless nights wrapped in mosquito nets and taken more journeys than we’d care to admit on rat-infested trains. We brush teeth under the trickle of our water bottles and share bathrooms with armies of ants. We pop anti-malaria pills like they’re Flinstone vitamins and that little pink bottle of Pepto-Bismol has become a best friend. We carry our closets on our backs and these memories in our hearts.

Embarking on our around the world trip, I was prepared to have my reality turned on its head. But after traversing the globe, I realize I could have never fully prepared for the unforgettable shift of consciousness that was to take place.

The journey was, in a word, transformative.

Photo 3 Homeward Bound

A New Zealand sunset over Marlborough Sounds

Reflecting on these experiences, I can’t help but think back on the girl I was. I remember packing up my backpack and feeling so uneasy leaving those jeans and hairdryer behind. I remember the cold, hard feeling of the backpack, fully loaded, on my shoulders for the first time, wondering why my business traveler, rolling suitcase couldn’t fit the bill. I remember standing in the airport getting ready to take off on our first transcontinental flight, realizing I didn’t have a phone, blackberry or voicemail to check. I remember feeling free.

And that feeling of freedom, of sheer adventure that comes with the uncertainty of where we will lay our head each night, that is what I think I will miss the most. I will miss when our days were our days, when every minute decision became a challenge. I will miss meeting fascinating people from around the globe – locals and travelers alike – whose stories have inspired and touched me deeply.

Of course there are countless things I miss from home. I miss talking to my mom every day and going on runs with my dad. I miss walking barefoot into the bathroom in the middle of the night. I miss the familiar sound of my friends’ voices on the other end of the telephone line. I miss crisp sheets and the smell of clean laundry. I miss the change of seasons, though I never thought I would.

The challenging part? I’ve begun to feel most comfortable in my skin when I’m uncomfortable. In our ever-changing environment, I’ve become a chameleon, continuously adapting to my surroundings. I thrive on the challenge, the vulnerability I feel when everything around me is unfamiliar and foreign. It’s in this raw, heightened state that I feel most alive, and somehow awakened to everything around me.

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Standing proud atop Nepal's Annapurna Base Camp at sunrise

With an experience like this, not a day went by that I wasn’t overwhelmed with gratitude. The crippled Indian boy walking on his hands through our train car sweeping garbage for spare change, that Burmese rickshaw driver all gussied up for a day of waiting in front of our hotel for the chance to make a buck, those twelve precious orphans who captured my heart in Zambia, these are images that fill my head. Reminded daily in these surroundings, I’ve grown grateful for the things I’ve grown up taking for granted. The reality is that no matter where my path of life leads me, it’s not likely I’ll ever have to worry about putting food on the table, a roof over my head and finding clean water to drink. For the thousands of others we met along the way, these thoughts consume their days.

Photo 7 Homeward Bound
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Carrying my little Zambian bundle of joy on my back, African-style

And with this gratitude, comes the sincere appreciation for having someone to share the experience with. Lots of people ask me how I could ever want to spend 400 consecutive days, every waking minute, with my husband. My thought: how could I not? Of course there are days when we’re more on par with the Costanza’s than the Brady’s, but this experience as a couple has been more profound than our thirteen years together combined. There have been so many moments of sheer bliss on this trip, when we pinch each other, knowing we are living our dream. But it’s been the trying moments, the weak and vulnerable times together, that have been the most meaningful. Catching each other’s watery eyes from across the taxi as we drive through the slums of Mumbai, laying awake together at night pondering the plight of the Burmese, a squeeze of the hand as we look down together in the alley at the families in Buenos Aires fumbling through our trash and watching each other coddle the orphans in Zambia as if they were our own, these are the moments I’ll cherish. These are the times when those often hidden layers of ourselves are revealed. Seeing each other react to a kind of helplessness and desperation that we before couldn’t have even imagine existed, it somehow connects us on a deeper level.

My close friends and family who have a real understanding of what this journey has been have expressed a bit of concern on how we will handle getting back. “How are you ever going to adjust to reality?” they ask. The thing is, I guess, our reality somehow seems different. We’ve opened our world and aren’t about to close the book.

My Zambian kids said it best. Gyrating their hips and tapping the water pump to the beat of the latest Zambian hip-hop song, they sang to me: “Bring it back now, bring it, bring it back now!” And that’s exactly what we plan to do. We’re going to bring these lessons, this global perspective, the heightened state of awareness, back home with us. It’s not going anywhere.

Photo 6 Homeward Bound

A week from now I’ll be standing in an airport again, ready to board that last transcontinental flight. Something tells me that backpack is going to rest a bit easier on my shoulders and those jeans just might feel a bit funny on my hips.

Some people grow up knowing they want to be a doctor or pilot. I grew up knowing I wanted to see the world. After 14 months on the road, I have to say: I’ve only just begun.

pixel Homeward Bound

Comments (13)

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  1. FFF says:

    Beautifully written and very nice pictures. I envy you guys, in a good way of course. Congrats!

  2. roundwego says:

    @Shey Thanks, Shey. It is a bummer to catch people at the tail end of the trip, I agree. Much more fun to follow along while it’s happening. Still glad you found our blog.

  3. Shey says:

    wow. Great post, but i have to say its almost nothing worst then finding a travel blog when they travelers are on their way home. definitely going to go back and read through.

  4. Was just referred to your blog today for the first time. As my husband and I recently returned from our own RTW trip, I was intrigued to read this post. Wow, that was incredibly well said. I look forward to exploring more of your blog and reliving some of our shared adventures. Best of luck.
    Sarah Martens´s last [type] ..Nepal Wrap-Up

  5. Holi cow! My GF & I are visiting India next year, and we land into Delhi the day before Holi.. Any tips? I’m just wondering how the heck I’m going to protect my camera with all the color powder flying around!
    Gerard ~ GQ trippin´s last [type] ..Win a TouchPad from G!

  6. That was a very moving, beautifully written recap of your experience. So glad you shared it.
    Two Travelaholics´s last [type] ..RTW UPDATE: Telling the Future In-laws

  7. Angela says:

    I believe after traveling for so long it will feel strange to go home, I’m on my sixth year as an expat, I don’t think I’m going to stop any time soon…
    Angela´s last [type] ..Visiting China Must-know expressions in Mandarin – Part 2- Asking for Directions

  8. Fabia Talhame says:

    Laura,

    You have a strength many people will never know. This has been an incredible journey…thanks so much for sharing. You are truly inspiring!

    Hope to catch up with you when you’re back in the states.

    Best,
    Fabia

  9. Thi says:

    you guys are seriously incredible. thanks so much for sharing this amazing journey with all of us. can’t wait to catch up soon.

  10. Skott says:

    Hey guys,

    Just went through this post, and it was incredible. I read the part about spending the entire trip with each other to Shawna, and she nearly cried…an amazing, heart-felt post….Thanks again for all the infor you emailed us today.

    All the best,

  11. Romana says:

    Hi Laura,
    I found your blog when I was starting to plan my own round the world trip. I never left a comment before, but I’ve been following your adventures and I really enjoyed your travel stories and pictures.
    I’m now on my second month of the round the world trip, with my husband and I’m loving every second of it.

    This post is probably my favorite of all. It’s amazing how you managed to put so well in words what this trip is about.
    Although I’ve only started, I recognized a lot of my own feelings in your words, such as the sense of freedom when I left my life and my stuff behind and sharing this life changing experience with my husband, spending every minute of a day with him.

    I hope to read many more travel stories in the future and good luck settling in!
    Romana

  12. [...] can I say — Laura Keller’s Homeward Bound over at Round We Go was unbelievably awesome. I was hooked upon seeing the first photo in this post [...]

  13. Kristof says:

    I followed your travelling reports since we met in Jeri (brazil) and want to thank you sharing these bundle of experiences with us in your colorful comments!
    (Seems that you don’t confirm the german prejudice of americans not knowing anything about something outside the U.S…)