PolarSteps: my stops on a world map

According to my travel-tracker app, PolarSteps, in the past 13 months, I traveled 41,698 miles, through 21 countries. My homes consisted of 13 different apartments (one for each month), but I took 98 major side trips to places like Yerevan, Armenia, Acre, Israel, Chefchauen, Morocco, Bihać, Bosnia, Stonehenge, England, Interlocken, Switzerland, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Granada, Spain, Cocorná, Colombia, Rainbow Mountain (and later the Amazon), Peru, Colonia, Uruguay, and many others.  In all of these places, I was touched by incredible people starting with the 70 members of my Remote Year family to distant family members I met for the first time.  I met up with close family and friends who visited, boarding school roommates who had moved overseas, college roommates who met me to complete bucket list items (like Machu Picchu), old coworkers whose travels coincided with mine, expat friends from New York, friends of friends, foreign family members of friends, new travel friends, and the many locals I met along the way. All of them made up my still unfathomable year-long journey.

4 days ago, I packed my bags for the last time from a Remote Year apartment, handed in my key and waved goodbye to my friends in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I boarded my first of 3 flights in a 48 hour journey back to the States and took a deep breath: Remote Year had ended.  Now what?

It’s hard to absorb the feelings, experiences, and changes that have taken place over a long period of time and throughout 98 different trips.  I should be exhausted.  I should never want to travel again.  But if I’m honest, living overseas was easy.  And when it wasn’t easy, it was interesting and challenging.  I wasn’t locked into christenings and birthday parties and coworker drinks and the obligatory quarterly bash my old company used to throw. I had a lot of time on my hands.  I read a lot.  I wandered streets of new cities, spent time looking at one painting in a museum and getting to know who the artist was.  I took tours and sat in churches.  I absorbed history and names like I never had before.  I learned to speak Spanish (though I wouldn’t say I’m fluent).  I had time to write blog posts and take photographs.  Ultimately, I had eliminated the busyness of my old life, the unnecessary stress I was always fighting, and had started to learn about who I wanted to be.  

I know when I go home I’ll be tempted to go back to my busy life.  I may not have been curing cancer, but I made sure I had every moment accounted for and structured.  I followed the news, I adamantly argued my points against the other side, and I drank a lot of coffee. It felt good to complain that I had no excess time. 

I’ve been planning for my return by expecting the following:  the first 24 hours I’m back, I’ll notice the cleanliness, the new buildings and the strip malls.  I’ll marvel that I can throw toilet paper in the toilet, drink the tap water, find both hummus and lemons in the grocery store, and know that (for the most part) cars stop for pedestrians.  But by the second day, I’ll forget that these things are anomalies and expect them.  I’ll look to book up my calendar and rush from one scheduled event to the next.  And soon enough, my year of traveling will seem like a dream, like someone else’s story. 

There’s something that I told my fellow Remotes during the last couple months of our journey:  we have a responsibility now, to our friends, to our loved ones, to ourselves.  We have an obligation to lead interesting lives.  People are going to look up to us to show the way, or to be able to provide a good story.  We’ve been explorers in the world and we can’t lose that spirit or disappoint those we’ve inspired. 

So I’m going to challenge myself and see if I can continue to keep time for me, to not get overstressed with obligations.  I’m going to recognize what makes me happy and acknowledge that I have one life to live.  I’m going to keep traveling until I no longer find joy in it.  And I’m going to continue telling my story (as long as there’s someone to listen), so that others have a glimpse into what else is beyond their city, state, and country.  After nearly 42,000 miles of travel (and over my lifetime, 100’s of thousands of miles and 39 countries), I know now that I’ve barely scratched the surface.  There’s still a lot more to see and explore, and as Larry McMurtry states in Some Can Whistle: “If you wait, all that happens is that you get older.”   Remote Year may have ended, but my life hasn’t.  I don’t plan on letting this new zest for life pass me by and I look forward to tapping the next adventure.