Life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen. Adriana Huffington
Exactly one year ago I ventured out to travel around the world. When I first boarded the plane to Cape Town I didn´t imagine that it would take longer than a year until I set foot on the streets of Barcelona again. In fact, I wasn´t even sure if I could last longer than 6 months. Without seeing my family and friends, having some sort of routine or stability, calling some place my home. Sure, I had emptied my walk-in closet, left my apartment, given up my job, there was not turning back. But would my wanderlust keep me going all the way to New Zealand?
This journey has taken me a long way since then, both physically and spiritually. My family and friends still mean the world to me. I missed Christmas for the first time, because I was busy building sandmen at the other end of the world. My grandmas are getting older, and I am aware that postcards don´t make up for the oceans that I´ve put between us. Fortunately, traveling in the 21st century no longer means being cut off from home: I was able to finish my work days in an remote village in Malawi by skyping with a Skype call; I could exchange a few words I will never forget with my grandmas on Christmas, because my mom put me (her laptop) on the dinner table. I still can´t help feeling selfish sometimes, aware that nothing can bring any of these moments back.
Life is a sum of all your choices. Albert Camus
I am constantly on the move. Every day I meet new people and say good-bye to them again. I enjoy making fleeting connections with similarly wired people, we click with immediately. Beautiful places touch my soul within minutes. The tasks of getting set up in a new country have become repetitive, even though I am still surprised how little they differ between the developing and the so-called developed world. Traveling has become my routine and knowing that Europe is only a couple long-distance-flights away is as much stability as I need right now.
I know one day I will happily sit down again on what I will call my own comfortable couch. I will enjoy sleeping in my own king-size bed instead of a squeaky bunk bed in a crowded dorm, just like I will be grateful for living in an apartment instead of a used car (actually that´s how I spent two of the most exciting months of my life). But for now, I feel just fine without this comfort. I have gotten used to putting my feet up on another worn-out hostel couch, to lying down on an inflatable mattress at a friend´s place, and immediately feeling at home. The world has become my playground and my wanderlust keeps me going.
How have these 12 months changed me? Where should I start 🙂
Stating the obvious: I don´t look the same. I have embraced the travelers look and haven´t worn neiher jeans nor heels in a year. My hair is no longer straight (yes, I finally left my flat iron behind). My weight is still not back to before-Africa levels. My finger nails are healthier than ever before, only my toe nails change color once between continents. My skin always stays slightly tanned, the dark scars from my clumsy accidents might forever mark my legs. Any new wrinkles still don´t keep others from underestimating my age by up to 8 years.
I no longer feel that attached to things. Instead of hoarding clothes in a walk-in closet, I have gotten used to living out of a 50l backpack. Anything I don´t use stays behind. When my fancy flip flops fell apart before the full moon party in Zanzibar, I got cheap ones at the beach shop. When I lost my Indonesian shorts somewhere around New Zealand´s glaciers, I replaced them with second-hand ones. Yes, I keep taking tons of photos, and it would make me sad to lose any of them. But at the same time I would no longer feel devastated about it. I know I don´t need them to remember how I felt when I swam with stingless jellyfish in Sulawesi or when a hippo scared the living hell out of me in Zambia?
Lost time is never found again. Benjamin Franklin
I have become more selective with whom I spend my time with, and that´s a good thing. I am both an optimist and an empath, a combination which can be draining at times. After everything I have seen on my journey I have little patience left for anyone feeling sorry for themselves over stupid stuff. I embrace the freedom of walking away from naysayers and I have gotten a little better at conserving my energy the few times I don´t. I am getting less frustrated with those who “admire what I´m doing” but have a million reasons to stick to 1st-world-habits that don´t fulfill them. Life is too short for excuses.
All alone? You are so brave! (still makes me smile)
Ever since I can remember my wanderlust kept pushing me out of my comfort zone, but many times my inner child was tamed by daily routine and other people´s opinion. Farther away from home then ever before, my craving for adventure has reached the next level. I am taking on personal challenges that I couldn´t have imagined before like bungee jumping from 134 meters in Queenstown or getting an in-situ-maori-design tattoed on my foot in Auckland. My hands were sweating, my jaw clenching and my heart racing every single time. And then I still went through with it.
Whether you think you can or you think you can´t, you are right. Henry Ford
Constantly switching between different cultures, races, languages, sceneries is overwhelming. I will never forget how frustrated I felt when I ended up in a teenie-dorm in Australia after having traveled around developing countries for 9 months; or how lonely I felt freedom camping on my own after having interrupted my solo travels for the first 4 weeks of my road trip. I might have quit earlier had I not found my way to stay emotionally stable: meditation. I first experimented with meditation upon returning from hiking the Rinjani volcano and at this point it has become a daily habit. Meditation helps me to take a step back and balance my energy before I seek the next adventure.
Would I have prepared myself different for this trip had I known what was to come?
When you try to control too much, you enjoy too little.
I am glad I had taken care of certain preparations. I got my vaccines and figured out the visa situation for my first travel destination. The Austrian in me ordered additional debit and credit cards which came with an additional travel insurance. I don´t pay commission withdrawing money, because I specifically opened an account with a Spanish bank that didn´t charge any abroad. But one thing comes to mind that I would actually do differently now: prepare less & get going! I have learned that my travel route changes constantly; my friends back in Barcelona helped me to file taxes from a remote island in Malawi; I got myself a new passport in New Zealand. Everything can be figured out on-the-go, even at the other side of the world.
Fellow travelers usually assume I am traveling on a round-the-world plane ticket and are surprised to learn I don´t. When I planned my trip, I felt the urge of buying an (overpriced) RTW ticket for the sake of holding on to what felt like a little bit of security at that time. Resisting this urge made my trip so much more special. Not only would it not have saved me any money, but it wouldn´t have allowed me to experience this level of freedom which I couldn´t have imagined before and which I have gotten so used to that I sometimes forget about.
Just go with the flow! Advice from my atheist skydiving master Alfred
Rocking up with my car in the next town, unsure whether freedom camping would get me in trouble there. Getting stuck in an African village, not knowing how I would be able to travel on nor when. Coming from a prudent culture, it took me a long time to embrace the uncertainty of what was going to happen next. I have learned that there is always a way out and the worst situations turn into the best stories. Living in the moment is an important skill that I got to practice quite a bit in New Zealand. I am still getting better at it every day.
Nothing lasts forever and in a few months I will find myself on a plane back home. For a long time I have dreaded the moment when I would “return to my old life”. To an office routine, to 1st-world-conversations, to places that don´t inspire me. For a long time I have wondered how I will feel when this amazing journey comes to an end, but different to a few months ago these thoughts no longer worry me. For one year I have proved to myself that I am able to adapt to a dynamic environment full of life´s surprises. I am confident that many beautiful moments will be waiting for me even after this dream is over.
To be honest with myself, I know I am not going to “return to my old life”. All the places that I have connected with, all the people who shared their secret to happiness with me along the way, have turned my world around. There´s just no going back to where started 12 months ago. I know will let go of some habits or even friends, actually I already have. Does this worry me? Not that much anymore, because it will free up time to take on other habits and meet like-minded people, both of which excite me.
South America is the last stop on my way back to Europe. I have had an amazing year, and no words could describe how grateful I feel to live this unique experience. Not every moment of my journey has been a happy one, much less an easy one. But I wouldn´t want to change a single thing. Every experience has helped me to grow, to enrich and inspire me on some level. I have never felt as alive as today.
20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn´t do than the ones you did do. Mark Twain