Travel is Great, but Coming Home is Even Better
I recently returned home after a four month trip across Europe and Africa. I arrived just in time for the holidays; I spent Christmas at home with my family, and new year in the city with my friends! As expected, my trip was the topic of a lot of conversations. I enjoyed recapping my overseas adventures, answering (lots of) questions, and encouraging everyone to visit South Africa ASAP. My family was happy that I was back in one piece with a lot of stories to tell and my friends – that I wasn’t in a foreign prison with a lot of different kinds of stories to tell.
This was the first time I had really spoken about my trip to others. It was also the first time I really had the opportunity to reflect and digest the last four months as a whole. I had truly been “living in the moment,” which is easy to do when you’re on the road visiting and seeing new places everyday, or planning where to go and what to do next. But as I was sharing all of these stories, I began to process my trip and experiences in aggregate. I decided that it was as amazing as I had expected it to be… reality lived up to expectation, and then some. I would do it all again if given the choice.
But as I was musing, an unexpected thought crossed my mind. A feeling that is difficult to explain: as incredible and unforgettable as the trip was, returning home was even better. What?!
I was a bit caught off guard at first. If you had told me at the beginning of the trip that I would look forward to returning home, I probably would have laughed (actually, after writing that sentence, my friend Ron reminded me that I did laugh when this came up).
But, I remembered that I had a big smile on my face as I boarded my flight home from Cape Town. A small part of this is because I’m obsessed with Emirates (flying with them is like a mini vacation itself) but primarily because I was so thrilled to be going back to New York for the holidays (although leaving the 80 degree South African summer was not easy).
I couldn’t wait to get off the Metro North train in Poughkeepsie and hug my little brother and sister (you too, Mom), I could pretty much taste the spicy meatballs over mashed potatoes from The Meatball Shop, and the idea of not relying solely on wifi to use the internet was almost too much to handle.
In hindsight, four months away was the perfect amount of time. It was long enough to see 15 countries (!) but without missing too much back home. Around month three I started to get homesick. It’s easy nowadays to stay in touch via FaceTime and iMessage, but over an extended period of time, it’s just not the same. Seeing pictures of Kate playing volleyball, Danny’s flag football games, my friends’ Halloween and Friendsgiving parties, and the constant inflow of snapchats didn’t make things easier. The holidays were coming up, which I had never missed, and once I had the idea to fly back to celebrate, the idea stuck and only got stronger (think: Inception).
It wasn’t an easy decision to cut the trip short, but what started at the onset as a 4-6 month getaway was quickly looking more like a 9-12 month expedition. And the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to travel across the entire African continent via public transportation. You have to be in the right mindset to do something like that, and I would have been too distracted. I felt guilty because I knew Janet would be disappointed, but I missed my family and friends too much!
This is super cliche, but “you don’t know, until you know.” And traveling for an extended period of time made me appreciate and understand a lot of things that I didn’t before (a post dedicated on this coming soon!). And several of these made my homecoming even sweeter.
I didn’t realize it would be so difficult to be away from my family. I’ve always lived close to my family: I went to college one hour from my hometown, and NYC was only two hours south. I was lucky to be so close — I could hop on a train to easily catch family time at a game or recital. During the last 14 years, I’ve watched my little brother and sister grow up. This was the longest time I had been away from them, and while we stayed in touch, a part of me felt like I was missing out.
It was a similar situation with my friends. I have a very close group of friends from college – most of us moved to NYC after graduation, and we have lived within walking distance of each other for the past eight years. I’m very grateful to have these guys in my life and we spend a lot of time together. I developed a little case of “FOMO” (cliche again, I apologize) while on my trip, especially after seeing them make plans in our group chat week after week! We would typically spend Sunday nights together watching HBO – and I was reminded of this every time I downloaded an episode of Westworld.
I was also exhausted, both physically and mentally. Backpacking and traveling on a budget is not easy; it’s hard to understand until you’ve had the experience. It takes a toll on your body when you’re changing locations every 2-3 days and lugging around a heavy backpack (that you’re literally living out of). We were constantly packing and unpacking. Sleep was unpredictable and sporatic – we would often travel at night, and sleeping in a different bed all the time didn’t help. The quality of our shower was always a mystery. I thrive when I have direction or a schedule – which you don’t have when you travel this way. I had little motivation to exercise. And I wasn’t eating very healthy.
Being reunited with my family and friends has been great, but I’ve also come to recognize a lot of other things that I took for granted, especially the small things – those have been brought to my attention as a result of the trip…. like:
A good nights sleep – in your own bed (I had honestly forgotten what this was like!); a home cooked meal (there’s nothing quite like this, Mom…); pajama pants and comfy wool socks (these didn’t make the cut for my trip… not enough space in the backpack :/ ); my four pillows (I can see Janet scowling); a tea kettle (making tea is now as easy as going downstairs!); Seamless (I missed the days where I could just lay in bed and have my food delivered…); cell phone service and reliable wifi (there’s nothing more frustrating); HBO Go (whose idea was it to make this only available in the States?); more than two pairs of pants (and I ripped my favorite corduroys about halfway into the trip); a washing machine (it’s not good when the “smell test” becomes normal…); people who know what Shake Shack is (the world doesn’t know what it’s missing); an actual towel (the microfibre ones are are great and compact, but leave much to be desired); a good-ole-American Big Mac (yes, they taste very different everywhere you go); more than one pair of shoes (I left my sneakers in Albania); a closet full of clothes (so many options!); knowing where the heck you’re going (not being perpetually lost and dependent on taxi drivers that don’t speak your language); driving on the right hand side of the road (and how lucky we really are with the condition of the roads here); a quality bacon egg and cheese (with extra cheese!).
I also wrote at length about my favorite spots that I missed the most in NYC – check that out here.
I’m happy with both decisions I made: to go on the trip, and to call it quits when I did. It certainly was the trip of a lifetime and I was fortunate to be in a position to do something like that (while I still could!). But, even with all those experiences, stories to tell, and gorgeous Instagram pictures, nothing will ever top being reunited with friends and family.
How do you feel when you return home after a long trip? Tell me in the comments!