I’ve been home for nearly a week while Eaman backpacks through Iran, but before we parted ways, we had a long conversation about this past year, what we’ve learned, what we would’ve done differently and what everything has meant to us. We’ve had these dialogues pretty often and usually spontaneously throughout our travels, but this was the first time that we could step back and really mull over all the time spent together.
So what did we learn?
The day we departed back in September 2011 on the left and the day we ended the trip together just a week ago on the right. Tried to get the exact same pose. Mixed results, but the same clothes!
Well, we learned that picking up a little of the local language can go a long way, that some touristy sites are still magnificent, that you should never eat the raw cheese at Cusco’s San Pedro market, that renting an apartment instead of a hotel room is such a fun and different way to see a city, that Argentinean steak is really that good, that Patagonia might just be the most beautiful place in the world, that the hardest stuff (like trekking for 5 days or WWOOFing) is the most rewarding, that Eaman can learn how to drive stick-shift via YouTube, that visiting friends abroad is always a good idea, that the San Blas Islands are a slice of paradise many people have never heard of, that friends can become family in a matter of three months, that surfing and stand-up paddleboarding are super fun, that Vietnamese street food is some of the best, that Laos will forever and always hold a special place in our hearts, that Bangkok is actually a lovely city and not the congested metropolis we assumed it would be, that I can snatch, squish and kill a mosquito with my bare hands, that going to a place like Myanmar, where tourism is so new, should be on everyone’s to-see list, that Burmese salads are delicious (who knew?), that the world can sometimes be a horrible place but giving your time can make things a little brighter, that you can always come home, that the Taj Mahal is other-wordly beautiful, that taking a vow of silence can give you some much-needed time for introspection and that, just when you thought you knew everything about your partner, a year of travel can make you even more deeply connected and seal a bond that nothing can break.
And would we have done anything differently? Besides maybe getting more fluent in Spanish, nada. It was because of these choices that we came out of this experience as happy and inspired as we did.
But out of everything we took from these last 13 months, three big lessons continued to crop up in conversations.
Hospitality. I already extolled the virtues of all our friends and family, who so graciously gave us everything (and more) when we visited them, but somehow, I can’t seem to get over how much they impacted us. It’s not just about hospitality; these people taught us about kindness in a way no one has ever before.
Passion. Zest for life, joie de vivre — call it what you want, but we’ve realized we want to lead more passionate, interesting lives. We want to be invested in the things we do, and as Eaman said in the last post, engage in activities because we want to, not because we’re supposed to. Along the way, we met so many inspiring people who are so excited about life. A German woman loved horseback riding so she found a ranch to volunteer with. A Burmese student wanted to branch out at school so he took up Spanish. A Thai woman loved seeing new places so she became a flight attendant.
Sure, we had opportunities in New York — actually, really amazing ones that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the U.S. — but we just didn’t take advantage of very much of it. “Lack of money” and “lack of time” are seemingly valid excuses, but they’re still excuses. It’s kind of like, ya know, traveling the world. There are always reasons not to go; you just have to one day, bite the bullet and do it. And in the end, what it boiled down to wasn’t about time or money; it was a lack of inspiration and confidence.
We feel differently. Now, we realize how lucky we are to have opportunities. We want to dive into art classes and sports and recipes and books, try new things and be more knowledgeable citizens of the world. Put simply, we want to make the best use of our time and have something to show for ourselves to ourselves. What are we waiting for?
And finally: We’re all a lot more similar than we are different. Just take a look at the news or magazine stand and you’ll see that we live in a world where differences are emphasized — skin color, race, religion, sexuality, socio-economic status, education level, whatever. You know what we realized after 13 months around the world? Generally speaking, we’re actually all pretty much the same and want the same things in life — to be happy, close to our family, spiritually connected, successful and smart. We all just take different paths to get there.
Observing and participating in different religions was a particularly eye-opening aspect of the trip. There were so many practices and rituals that Eaman and I found to be common across various religions. To us, a Hindu idol isn’t all that different from the Kaaba which isn’t all that different from the Jewish tefillin. Are they not all just focal points to make a connection with god (or some greater being if you’d rather call it that)? Are prayer beads not a symbol of devotion across most religions? I’m not trying to be sacrilegious and I suppose it’s in the eye of the beholder, but these eyes see a lot more same than different.
Now that I’m back and have had time to feel my way around my figurative old stomping ground, I can tell you that I, for one, feel completely different. I feel emotionally lighter with much more mental clarity, confidence and inspiration. I still have no job prospects and no apartment, but I feel so invigorated and confident that everything will work out. If you want it to, it will. I truly believe that. And really, I’m just happy. It’s such a simple thing, but let me tell you, I wasn’t happy in New York. Sure, I had a great job, wonderful friends and that Manhattan apartment I always dreamed of, but at the core, I wasn’t happy. Today, I can’t stop smiling because there’s not a lot in my world to be upset about. I have an amazing, supportive network of family and friends, a boyfriend who means the world to me and a travel experience that changed my life.
People have wondered if I’m sick of talking about my travels, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Why wouldn’t I want to talk about one of the most significant, memorable, happiest times of my life? It was at some points scary, frustrating and lonely, but I wouldn’t be as happy or as at peace with my life as I am today without having gone through those feelings. And with that, I chose this chapter of the story.
As I mentioned, Eaman is still traveling through Iran and will have posts about his solo adventures here on the blog soon. It’ll paint a very different version of the Iran you see on the news, a version that we think all of you should see.
For now, thanks for always reading, commenting and staying connected while we were away. Couldn’t have done it without you.