It’s been six months since I left. Six months since I quit my job, gave up my apartment and all my belongings, handed my cat over to my friend, wrestled my backpack into the overhead compartment of a Norwegian Air flight to Ireland, and watched my entire life float away.
How does it feel, to be exactly in the middle of this year-long journey of travel and self-exploration and freedom?
“Half empty. Half full. Cup runneth over.”
A line from one of my favorite Andrew Bird songs that resonates through my whole body at times like this.
Half empty because there is no yes without a no. I’ve missed birthdays of loved ones, months of visits with my growing nieces and nephews, Thanksgiving with my family, supporting my friends in hard times and celebrating in good ones.
I’ve missed curling up at night with my cat in my own bed, deep conversations with people I’ve known for years instead of five minutes, a sense of solidity and stability, knowing that there will be a place in the shower for my soap to rest its slippery sudsy self, the ease of spending my days in conversations with native English speakers who appreciate and understand sarcasm. Ease and routine and comfort.
I’ve missed waffles (god I’ve missed waffles, and also proper American bacon (I’ve had a few substances masquerading as bacon which are a disgrace to pigs)).
But along with the longing, there are gains, there’s growth and strength.
I feel the growth of a confidence I’ve never had, born out of six months of independent wandering in twelve countries to date. In most of them I don’t speak the language, and in many I can’t even read the alphabet, and yet I find food and a bed for the night and my next bus. I’ve tackled so many forms of transport, kept my (relative) cool when faced with giant spiders and stray dog packs and hostile French grocery clerks, made friends despite my deep shyness, and enjoyed almost all of it.
I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the lives of others, beyond the easy stereotypes. It gives you so much more empathy for others when you step outside of yourself, see the dreams of young Greeks and the friendliness of Laos and the resilience that people all over the world have in the face of corruption, of deep poverty, of a genocide so recent that everyone you meet in Cambodia older than 45 has lived through it, of trying to build a new and better life for the next generation.
And I’ve learned about ways that so many other people have chosen to live their lives. In America, the accepted trajectory is college > marriage > suburban house > babies > getting one of those book-like phone cases and posting mom memes or making dad jokes on Facebook. That can be beautiful and fulfilling, if that’s what you want (except those phone cases, which should be set on fire along with Sketchers shoes).
But if it’s not, or you’re questioning it, there aren’t a lot of other modes of life that are celebrated or visible. You often can feel like a bit of a freak for not having those milestones when you hit a certain age and your instagram has turned into one long feed of other people’s babies and home renovation pictures and throwback wedding pictures only tangentially related to whatever the post is about.
But not out here. On the road, I’ve met people from all over living so many different lives, none of them traditional and all of them exciting. Nomadic families on the slow boat in Laos, traveling yoga teachers in Cambodia, a couple my parents’ age from Vermont motorbiking around Asia, digital nomads of all kinds who set up shop in Bali or Chiang Mai or wherever speaks to them at that moment. And suddenly I feel less alone, less behind or weird or immature, and part of a kind of tribe of people looking for something else in the world.
And most of all, I’ve found beauty of all kinds.
The beauty of nature in the sacred waterfalls of Laos with the bluest water I’ve ever seen, in the wild storms on the Aegean Sea washing over Crete, the hillsides of Burgundy all gleaming gold and green in the autumn.
The beauty of the past in Ancient Greece and the Lascaux caves and Thai temples and Angkor Wat that reminds me we’ve been trying to figure out the meaning of our little human lives means since we became human.
And the beauty of people, their kindness and friendship and help and smiles when I need them even if we don’t speak a word of the same language. The connections, big and small, that have made this journey so far an opening of the heart as well as the mind and eyes.
Half empty, of the past and what doesn’t serve me anymore. Half full, of life and beauty and time and love.
Cup runneth over.