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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.