Tuesday, August 21, 2012

We're Halfway There

Eric and I are halfway through our nine months on the road.  The time is going by so quickly, and I've been thinking about what has and hasn't changed in the past four and a half months.  It's not a very long time, but it is enough to notice a few differences.

In our apartment in Philly
My bag has since been dubbed "The Avocado."
From living out of a backpack, I've learned I can live with less.  I've also learned that I'm happy not to do so.  My current wardrobe consists of three tank tops, three short-sleeved shirts, a long-sleeved button down, a pair of shorts, a skirt, a cotton dress, a pair of jeans, a pair of gray pants, a thin sweatshirt, and a silk dress I picked up at the Chiang Mai Sunday Market.  

My shirts and a Michigan flag
Since about mid-June, I have been having recurring dreams about going back to my parents' house and swapping out my t-shirts for ones I left packed away in the attic.  When I laid out my clothes for the trip, I did so with practicality as my focus.  I'm still mad at myself for not bring a cute "going-out" shirt, and though I originally considered nail polish a frivolous extra three ounces of weight, I picked up a bottle in Bangkok.  Even though I'm backpacking and living in hostels, I still want to feel like me and have pink toenails.  Traveling with a limited amount of clothing has given me a good perspective on what I actually need in life, but it hasn't changed me completely.  I'm not going to get back to the US with a peace sign tattoo, but hopefully I will be more deliberate about my possessions.

Non-Americans are well-informed about American politics.  In Indonesia, Eric and I had a long discussion about the recent US Supreme Court decisions with a couple from Belgium.  The guy even knew the names of the justices.  By contrast, I know next to nothing about Belgium in general.  Granted, it comes down to a matter of interest — people will be better informed if they're curious about a subject, which this man clearly was.  It's still been fascinating to have had many in-depth discussions with people from all over the world.  The most frequently asked questions: "Who's going to win in November?" and "What's up with your political parties?"

Lombok, an island in Indonesia
By being away, I've gotten a clearer idea of what I care about.  With some distance, I've realized what parts of American life and politics still interest me.  More than that, I've been reminded how important my family is to me.  Being away has meant missing birthdays, holidays and a wedding.  Even though last summer's work schedule kept me from visiting Lexington for more than a weekend, this is the first year I haven't gotten to spend any evenings sipping margaritas on the back porch with my mom.  As much as I love long-term travel, I'm not sure I'd be able to live abroad permanently (unless, of course, I found a great job in a wonderful city where my family would want to vacation annually).

My family at Palio's in Ann Arbor
Similarly, the impermanence of travel has shown me how much I will enjoy putting down some roots.  Since graduating from college, I've never fully unpacked.  I'm excited to feel part of a community, to have good friends who I see regularly, and to have a place that feels like home.  My feet might get itchy now and then, but hopefully a quick trip to Peru or Spain or Morocco can help with that.

Possibly contradicting my last point, traveling just makes me want to travel more.  After two weeks in Indonesia, Eric and I had laid out plans for a South Pacific trip in the future.  Every person we've met has had more recommendations, and our list of must-see places expands constantly.  We have roughly four months until we're headed back to the US, and have maybe two year's worth of places we'd like to visit just in Eastern Europe.
A monastery in the mountains - Meteora region of northern Greece
I've learned to appreciate differences abroad and at home.  You know what I didn't appreciate in the US?  Public trash cans.  On the other hand, I wish I could haggle with shopkeepers and drink wine at picnics in public parks.  I've run into humbling moments that may not have happened to me back home.  One night in Malaysia I was drinking beers with a group of Germans when slowly they all switched to speaking German.  After a minute, one guy asked, "Wait, who here isn't German?"  I waved, and for the rest of the night he kindly kept switching back to English as soon as the conversation migrated into German.  I've never truly been in the language minority before.  

Flying into Bangkok from Java
I've become better at adapting to new situations.  I don't freak out at squat toilets and I've learned to make peace with the people who snore in dorm rooms.  I can negotiate prices in marketplaces.  I've learned how to survive food poisoning.  I've gotten better at chatting with people I've just met, as long as there's not a huge language barrier.

I'm still not as independent as I'd like to be; I rely too much on Eric, especially at night in new cities.  I haven't picked up languages aside from a few words of Thai and the ability to order food in Indonesia.   I have some time to improve; there is still so much world left to see.

Drinks at a café are still how I like to start my evenings.
 What has traveling taught you?

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