No more views of Caribbean beaches, no more signs in Spanish, no more bans against flushing toilet paper down the toilet, and free water at every meal.
We are home.
As our plane lifted off the runway in Bogota, Colombia a few weeks ago, I looked out my window and watched the giant peaks of the Andes that had become such a familiar sight over the last year turn into nothing but tiny anthills. The clouds eventually enveloped the plane and I knew that the next time I touched down, it would be on American soil.
My heart felt heavy, excited, torn, melancholy, scared, happy, and blessed all at the same time. To be honest, I don't know what I was feeling because I had never felt it before.
I felt at peace with the decision to return home because we were missing family and friends, but a tinge of melancholy and longing lingered because I knew that this trip, the trip that we anticipated and planned for so long, was about to make that irreversible transformation from “potential” to “memories.” Good memories, but still just memories. That is the problem with the “present,” the “now;” it is fleeting. Potential lasts for a while, memories forever, but “now” only lasts for a moment and the "now" portion of our year abroad was officially over. With takeoff, it transitioned into the static and permanent, land of "memories."
To keep myself from getting too down, I remind myself that adventures don't have to be abroad, and going home doesn't have to be the end of our trip. Home is just our next destination. And Tom and I both are so excited to see how we can make this next year even more adventuresome than the last… a tough challenge, but in Tom’s opinion very likely!
Counting Our Blessings
We are so incredibly blessed by the people we met, the places we saw, and the lessons we learned. It almost seems greedy to feel a little bummed about returning home, so we've decided to take some time stop and count our blessings:
Our total time away was 1 year, 7 days, and 7.5 hours.
We visited 3 continents, 14 countries, 88 cities or towns, and 6 wine regions.
We traveled 265 miles by boat, 8,097 miles by bus, 667 miles by car, 31,887 miles by plane, 3,344 miles by train, and 491 miles by foot.
We slept in 97 different beds (not counting overnight buses), broke 5 electronic devices, made 43 new Facebook friends, read 31 books, and obtained 2 new diver certifications.
We learned one new language and how to say please, thank you, hello and goodbye in 7 more.
We spent $144.70 per day on average and made priceless memories of which there are too many to count.
Whew! I get tired just writing all that. Like I said, so many blessings.
Reunions & Frequently Asked Questions
Now that we have had a few weeks at home catching up with family and friends, we have had some time to reflect on our trip and answer some of the questions that we get asked most frequently. Here they are below:
Where are you going to live now?
At the moment, we are homeless nomads. We have stayed with family and friends in LA, Orange County, and San Diego for the past few weeks. We have trips planned to visit more friends in Colorado and Chicago. We do want to find a place to call “home” once again, but choosing the spot isn’t easy. We love Southern California because our family is based here, but we are open to living out of state or even out of the country if the right work opportunity arises. Or…maybe we will just go travel again :)
What was your favorite country?
This is really an impossible answer. We liked different countries for different reasons. But if we have to pick one, we would probably say Argentina. It has everything at an affordable price…beautiful nature, interesting history, exciting Latin culture, fun nightlife, good wine, and tasty food.
Where would you like to return to for another visit?
There are a few countries to which we want to return. Here are a few new bucket list items we’ve added to our list:
France: Tour through the French countryside and all the wine regions (but this trip will be best if we wait till we have a larger budget…France ain't cheap).
Southern Spain: Including our time walking the Camino De Santiago, we spent over 6 weeks in Spain. Unfortunately, we never made it to southern Spain. Spain was one of our favorite countries so it just seems wrong to not experience one of its most beloved regions.
Turkey: We just barely touched Turkey with our visit to Istanbul. However, the historical cities such as Ephesus are high up on our list to explore.
If you could go back and make a change to your itinerary, what would you change?
We would probably have removed Italy from our itinerary. Don’t get me wrong. We loved Italy, but because it is so accessible and geared toward tourism, I’m highly confident that I will have the chance to go back to Italy some day in the future.
Top 3 highlights?
How is life different now because of your trip?
We walk more, drink more tap water, waste less plastic water bottles, and accept that the American way is not always the best way. We realize that we don’t have all the right answers and we probably never will.
Humility. Traveling humbles you (or at least it should).
While standing in the customs line waiting to get my passport stamped, I look around and realize that I have certain rights, advantages, and opportunities because my passport is blue and I make money in the American dollar. Most travelers on the backpacker circuit are from the US, Australia, the UK, Germany, and Holland. What do all these countries have in common? They are wealthy by the world’s standard.
The world is big and I am small. There are billions of other people out there and I am just one of them during a short little blip in the history of time. I know less than I thought I knew and I am less important than I thought I was. I am not always right. This is reality, and traveling helps me see it. The sooner I come to terms with this reality, the better off I am. Problems don’t seem so huge. Disappointment isn't so imminent. Expectations are more realistic. And appreciation for what I have becomes much easier.
So go travel, see the world, and see just how small you really are. That sounds depressing, but its not. The world would be pretty boring If I (or you) were the biggest thing to happen to it. Thank God its bigger, grander, and more amazing than both you and me.
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!