Before this year, the longest I had been away from home was 5 weeks. Even with conferences, sales training, and extended holidays, the longest time off I’d had from doing something was 8 or 9 weeks, for Christmas Holidays while at school. And when school ended, I threw myself into work, and often accumulated more than my 4 weeks of leave a year quite easily. After 3 years in the same role, I got itchy feet for the first time, and went to Europe for just over a month. A European summer, through more that 10 countries, with a backpack, a passport, my dad, and the limited French/Italian/German phrases I’d been listening to on CD’s over the past month.
This trip, however, was an entirely different story. I was asked by many how I would survive seven months out of a suitcase – scratch that, a backpack – with no home, no friends, no family and no creature comforts. Not forgetting actual creatures there, either – because Benny Sparkles was going to be missed so very dearly. But each time I was asked, I just shrugged to the suggestion of home sickness, travel sickness, and all other plane/culture/food/foreign related illnesses that people would throw at me. I would respond, of course I’ll miss things… but that’s human nature.
Half way through the trip, and my sister asked the other day – how am I doing it? She had just been to Japan for a week, and hated the suitcase restrictions in just that short time. It was a fair question. To be honest, I really don’t think it has affected me very much. Normally – in real life, working, earning, appointments, priorities, I mean – I am highly organised. I like structure, planning and knowing where everything is. I like to set timetables, and have objectives. (Sounds really boring, right? Trust me, I know!) But over the past 4 months, there’s been hardly any planning. I can look one or two days in advance – maybe a bit more if flights/bookings are involved – rather than knowing a year in advance where I’ll be and when.
But the organiser in me hasn’t completely disappeared. I’ve just found new ways to express my preference for structure. I’ve already tried a few different ways to pack my backpack, different websites to book our accommodations, and experimented on Google Maps to find the perfect driving route through Jordan/Spain/USA. It seems to be doing the trick, because I’ve not had many moments of terror, fear, worry or despair. Nor have I broken down and demanded a flight home immediately – even if dinner at Himilayan Cafe with my brother and sister was tempting. And as for the backpack, it got a little too close to 20kg at one point, but I hadn’t even used the expansion pack yet. I certainly overpacked for the first half, which I’ll be attempting to avoid this week when we pack for the second.
More than the backpack, and the ‘lack of home’, I suppose I just readily accepted that there are certain comforts and discomforts that come from lugging your life around on your back in foreign countries each day. Sometimes the language barrier is testing, and being constantly on guard in some areas is tiring. Being ripped off is annoying, but that could happen anywhere, anytime. There are days when you just want a damn good ham and salad sandwich, and to sit on your bed, painting your nails, watching Sex & The City re-runs (or is that just me?) but instead you’re tired, picking tuna from a can and putting it on stale pita bread, sharing a picnic on an uncomfortable bed with itchy sheets to avoid going outside. That might be an unfair comparison, but it has happened.
It more than balances out, though. In 3 months, I have seen more of the world than I had in 25 years. I’ve visited countries that I previously couldn’t have even identified properly on a map. I’ve eaten foods I’d never eaten before, and foods I’ll never eat again. I’ve seen Angkor Wat, the Pyramids of Giza, Petra, Halong Bay and Stonehenge. I’ve met people from all over the world, in random places. So, who really cares that my clothes are creased, my shoulders are tight, the hotels aren’t 5-star and I can’t find a clean, matching pair of socks. I’m on holidays, for another 3 months at least!